Review: This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

This Is What Happy Looks Like Book Cover This Is What Happy Looks Like
Jennifer E. Smith

Perfect Strangers Graham Larkin and Ellie O’Neill meet – albeit virtually – when Graham accidentally sends Ellie an e-mail about his pet pig, Wilbur. The two seventeen-year-olds strike up an e-mail relationship, even though they live on opposite sides of the country and don’t even know each other’s first name.

In a witty and unforgettable correspondence, Graham and Ellie share details about their lives, hopes, and fears. But they don’t tell each other everything: Graham doesn’t know the secret hidden in Ellie’s family tree, and Ellie is unaware of Graham’s life in the spotlight.

When Graham seizes an opportunity to spend time in Ellie’s tiny hometown of Henley, Maine, he takes their relationship from online to in person. But can two people from such different worlds be together despite the odds stacked against them?

Review:

This book makes me feel like I have split personality disorder. One of my personalities, Fair Angela, found This Is What Happy Looks Like to be a cute, generally likeable book. Critical Angela, on the other hand, argues that Smith’s work is just too light and fluffy.

As a result, I’ll compromise and say that although This Is What Happy Looks Like isn’t really the book for me, there are plenty of people who might like it very much. It’s a sweet, sunny story that is a good choice for anyone looking for some lighter reading material.

Part of what makes this book so pleasant is that you don’t have to put up with petty arguments, unnecessary drama, or easily avoidable yet frustratingly-drawn-out misunderstandings. Ellie and Graham are reasonable and levelheaded. They actually have conversations with one another rather than making assumptions that lead to silly conflicts, and when either one of them has to make a decision, they stop and consider the potential consequences for themselves and others. Their maturity is impressive.

The downside to this is that the characters are so mature and reasonable that the story comes across as slightly bland at times. The so-called conflicts are mild and easily solved, and the obstacles standing in the way of Ellie and Graham’s relationship seem trivial. For example, the main problem the characters face is that Graham, who is a famous movie star, is perpetually in the spotlight. This is an issue for Ellie, who, as the blurb states, has some skeletons in her family’s closet. She fears that becoming romantically involved with Graham will draw the media’s attention to her and cause them to dig up the dirt on her family.

This would be a valid concern if it weren’t for one thing: Ellie’s secret isn’t really that interesting. It’s true that the paparazzi would probably report on it anyway – they thrive on exposing even the barest hints of a scandal – but I feel like no one else would really care about it much. As a result, the barriers to Ellie and Graham’s relationship come across as grossly overblown, which is part of the reason why I haven’t given this book a higher rating.

As I already mentioned, Graham is a celebrity, but a very tame one. Rather than trashing hotel rooms, getting drunk at Hollywood parties, or acting like a playboy, Graham is a down-to-earth guy who acknowledges his fame but doesn’t let it go to his head. He’d much rather hole up in his bedroom with a book and his pet pig, or go fishing with his dad, than smile for the cameras or charm the ladies. I both liked and disliked this. On the one hand, it was nice that Graham isn’t an arrogant skeezeball. On the other, he comes across a little too squeaky clean at times, adding to the slight blandness of the story.

Moving on to Ellie’s character, I find that I don’t have much to say about her. She’s likable but doesn’t really stand out among the dozens of other female protagonists I’ve read about over the years. Still, she and Graham combined make a cute couple. The romance in this book isn’t passionate, but it is sweet, and that may be enough for some readers.

Bottom line, This Is What Happy Looks Like is a little too mellow for me but could be a great choice for those looking for a light read featuring an adorable love story.

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