More Happy Than Not is a book that sticks with you. Though I read it a few months ago, I keep coming back to the nuggets of writing wisdom in this lovely YA debut.
Here are three things kidlit writers can take away from Adam Silvera’s first novel (apart from an abiding hope that there are many, many more to come!).
1. “Too Many Things” is not a thing.
Aaron Soto is a poor Latino teen dealing with depression, his father’s death, and coming out as gay.
Woah, hold it right there!
Too many things, right?
And…(hushed voice)…will it be “relatable?”
Anyway, what kind of debut author thinks he can get away with all that?
Adam Silvera, apparently. And he pulls it off beautifully in More Happy Than Not. The novel is a tribute to the power of writing the book you want to write, and telling the story of a character whose story begs to be told.
Of course, this leads to the question: who decided the number of “things” a book’s allowed to deal with, anyway?
As Whitman would say, “We are large; our novels can and should contain multitudes.”
There are so many kids out there dealing with real, complex lives. Lives that don’t fit in a box of just one “thing” or the other. These are lives that deserve stories and representation, mirrors and models, examples of how to grow and thrive—and some days, how to just get by. More Happy Than Not is a testament to the truth: books that deal with life in all its complex, gritty realness are important and powerful. And they can be successful, too.
2. Thread that twist in early and often.
More Happy Than Not is a YA contemporary realistic novel with a slight futuristic twist. If Silvera had waited until the end to say, “Oh and memories can be erased in this world, B-T-Dubs,” it would have strained the novel’s credibility. Instead, he begins weaving in this slight deviation from current reality from the book’s opening. This makes it much more believable when the memory-erasure procedure becomes a central part of the plot.
From realistic novels to fantasy and everything in between, any major plot devices that stretch the limits of imagination must be introduced early. (Another way of saying this: worldbuilding isn’t just for science fiction/fantasy!) This may seem like a small detail, but it’s also an important one. It’s how authors maintain their readers’ trust.
3. The end of a YA book is really just the beginning.
Silvera has vehemently—and rightly—defended his ending, which true to the novel’s title skews toward the “more-happy-than-not” and away from the “happily-ever-after.” The ending fits the protagonist and the story. And it fits the YA category, too.
Few people tie up all their loose ends at the age of 16, 17, or 18—and who would want to? In YA, the protagonist’s central question morphs from the middle grade “What’s my place in this world?” to the hyper-existential “Wait, who am I, anyway?!” That question takes a lifetime to sort out. YA characters are just getting started.
So it’s okay to have an ending that’s “more happy than not.” It’s okay, preferable even, to have an ending that poses more questions than it answers. Of course readers want to see the characters they fall in love with ride off into the sunset. (And Aaron Soto is very easy to fall in love with.) But the YA audience will recognize and relate to a bittersweet ending—and they’ll understand that the character must continue his journey toward discovering a self that is real, and honest, and true.
Want to chat writing, kidlit, and more great MG and YA titles? Find me on Twitter at @beckererine.