Wednesday, September 24, 2014

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

Title: This Is What Happy Looks Like 
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Genre: YA Contemporary Romance
Publisher: Headline
Length: 416 pages
Original Publishing Date: April 2nd, 2013
Series: Standalone
Where I got it: Bought from Barnes & Noble
Links: Goodreads Amazon Author's Website

Synopsis from Goodreads: 
When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.

Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?

Main characters: 3.5/5

Graham gave a personable aspect to celebrities. I loved that Smith depicted him as a normal person and showed the everyday struggles that he had to deal with. It made him a realistic and sympathetic main character.

Ellie was so incredibly down-to-earth. I think that's probably the best way to describe her in one phrase. She was so grounded in everyday life, had a good head on her shoulders, and was entirely practical- in the best way possible. I think her personality meshed with Graham's because Graham could often be up in the clouds- drawing or thinking or acting.

Some problems with Ellie and Graham: it took me a long time to get a great sense of how Graham and Ellie interacted together. Although Smith included some of their emails in the prologue, we didn't get a true idea of how they meshed or the chemistry between them. This made their romance have an "instalove" feel, even though I don't think it actually was.

Another big problem? I didn't feel integrally connected to their characters. I was rooting for them sure, but I wasn't passionately involved in their story. I think part of this may have been the predictability of the story, which caused me to feel like there was less of a stake in their romance.

Secondary characters: 3/5

This is another books that has very few secondary characters. The biggest secondary character was Quinn, Ellie's best friend. I like that Quinn is described as opposite of Ellie, and the mix-up that ensues with her and Graham. Quinn also has her own stuff going on in her life, which means that we don't see her a lot. Quinn had the possibility of being a great best friend character, but specific plot points made her fall short of her potential as a developed character. These plot points added conflict and dynamics to Ellie and Quinn's relationship, but made it difficult to understand Quinn further.

Ellie's mom played a big role in the novel and I liked that. Even though she and Ellie get along well, they still disagree over some things and we see some conflict between the two. This conflict allowed us to get to know both Ellie and her mom better, and their conflict advanced the story and allowed them to grow as individuals.

All of this being said? I was disappointed with the number and depth of secondary characters. Because there were few major secondary characters, I wanted to be emotionally attached to them and understand them fully and I really didn't get that.

Writing style: 3/5

You may remember that I struggled at bit with Jennifer E. Smith's writing style in The Statistical Probability of Falling in Love. I enjoyed the writing in This is What Happy Looks Like far more. The pacing, to start, was faster for me than Probability, even though it was longer.

The writing was simple and utilitarian for most of the novel, but there were parts where Smith just shone as hit you with some beautiful sentences. Those run-on sentences were still present, but they were less noticeable than in Probability. Overall, my experience with Smith's writing style was still just ok. It didn't particularly stand out to me, and there were definitely still aspects that didn't click with me.

Plot: 3/5 
The first thing I need to point out about the plot is that it is predictable. This isn't always a bad thing though, because even though Smith draws on cliches that we are all familiar with, I still felt myself falling into their relationship. The novel focuses on Ellie and Graham as individuals and as a couple, but I also loved that it dealt with family and identity.

But let's talk about the mechanics of the plot structure. I mentioned earlier that I wished there had been more interaction with Ellie and Graham before they met in person. We are led to believe that they have so much in common, but it didn't come through in the writing. Graham also has this "gut reaction" to Ellie (or not Ellie) that I think came off as a little ridiculous given that they had never met in person. Finally, I struggled with the middle section when Ellie blows off Graham. I didn't understand why and the fact that Graham forgave her so quickly seemed unrealistic to me.

Ending: 3/5

Smith tries to make the ending of the novel very literary and meaningful, and I'm still a little torn on the extent to which it accomplished its goal.

On the one hand, the writing is absolutely gorgeous and I love that the ending leaves some options open: just as Graham and Ellie don't know what the future will hold, neither do we. That being said, I felt like the end just tried too hard. Like it was attempting to make a light, fun romance into some big mysterious meaning of life.

Best scene: When Graham realizes that Quinn is not Ellie.... Oops....

Reminded Me Of: You've Got Mail 

Positives: Realistic main characters, the simple elegance of the writing style, the way it ended

Negatives: No intense connection to main characters, small and underdeveloped secondary cast, predictable plot, the description/writing style of the ending (the overdramatic descriptions)

Cover: It's perfect. Following in the same style as The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, it features hand-drawn yellow features on a black and white background. The yellow goes perfectly with the "happy" theme and I LOVE the font, again.

Verdict:  A fun and light summer read that doesn't stand out much from the crowd

Rating:  5.0 / 10 (3 stars)

Your Thoughts: Have you read it? What did you think? If you haven't, will you be adding it to your TBR list? Let me know!

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