Sunday 15 December 2013

This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E Smith

If fate sent you an email, would you answer? 
It's June - seventeen-year-old Ellie O'Neill's least favourite time of year. Her tiny hometown is annually invaded by tourists, and this year there's the added inconvenience of a film crew. Even the arrival of Hollywood heartthrob Graham Larkin can't lift her mood. 
But there is something making Ellie very happy. Ever since an email was accidentally sent to her a few months ago, she's been corresponding with a mysterious stranger, the two of them sharing their hopes and fears. Their developing relationship is not without its secrets though - there's the truth about Ellie's past... and her pen pal's real identity. When they finally meet in person, things are destined to get much more complicated. Can two people, worlds apart but brought together by chance, make it against all the odds? 
Spanning one fateful summer, Jennifer E. Smith's new novel proves that life - and love - are full of unexpected connections and happy mistakes.

This Is What Happy Looks Like was published by Headline on 24 October 2013, and is aimed at a Young Adult market.  Despite the target market, I loved every page of this novel and would urge adult readers to read it too.

It's not often that I wish I were a teenager again, but when I read novels like this, I feel a pang of jealousy towards today's young adult readers. There just didn't seem to be the quality of literature around when I was a teen - I seem to remember making a massive leap from traditional children's books straight to the adult market  - there was little in between.  Today's young people have such a wealth of choice, how lucky they are.

This Is What Happy Looks Like is a clever and unusual novel.  When Ellie receives an email by mistake and replies, she never imagines that this will be the start of a new friendship.  She, and the person known only to her as 'G' start up an online relationship, sharing their day-to-day lives, and also their secrets.  Only they don't share every single secret.  Both of them have something huge, something that defines them, and something that they both choose to keep to themselves.  Theirs is an innocent friendship.

When eventually Ellie and Graham meet, it is Ellie that gets the biggest shock.  Graham cannot hide who he is once he is no longer protected by the virtual barrier that they have created, whereas Ellie can continue to keep her secret to herself.   This gives Ellie the upper hand, and whilst she is attracted to Graham, she knows that a relationship with him will bring more heartache - not just to her, but to her beloved Mother too.  The Mother who has worked hard to create their happy life in 'middle-of-nowhere' Maine.

This is a beautifully written traditional love story which has been given a modern contemporary twist.  It is relevant to today's young people, it looks at life in the media spotlight, and how being famous doesn't always mean being happy.  

A story that centres on authentic characters with a plot that could easily have become twee and overly sweet, but instead is very modern and the characters are very likeable.  This is a quick, easy read that I enjoyed very much, and would heartily recommend.

My thanks to Sam Eades from Headline who sent my copy for review.

Jennifer E Smith grew up outside of Chicago and graduated from Colgate University.  She earned her master's in creative writing from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, and currently lives in New York City.  Smith is an editor at Random House, and she previously worked at ICM.

For more information, visit her website
Follow her on Twitter @jenesmith


  1. This sounds kind of like a YA version of You've Got Mail! It isn't the sort of thing I usually go for at all but I must admit you've got me wondering what both their secrets are. And I know you're not somebody who reads lots of run-of-the-mill YA romances, so I tend to trust your praise. You've definitely piqued my interest.

  2. I love lettters and I love emails. This book is so cute. The friendship that starts from a wrong email address is the sort of friendship that is fun. Then, when they actually meet....WOW. The friendship slowed but the courtship heated up. Great read!