Happy looks like sunrises over the harbor, ice cream on a hot day, the sound of the waves down the street, the way my dog curls up next to me on the couch, evening strolls, great movies, thunderstorms, a good cheese burger, Fridays, Saturdays, Wednesdays, sticking your toes in the water, pajama pants, flip-flops, swimming, poetry. What does it look like to you?
Ellie and Graham has been exchanging emails for a few months, sharing details about their lives, hopes, and dreams, but they don’t even know each other’s first name. Young movie star, Graham Larkin, jumps at an opportunity to visit the hometown of a girl he’s met on the internet to try to take their relationship from online to irl. Small-town girl, Ellie O’Niell, on the other hand, isn’t one to draw attention to herself. She’s been pretty content in the middle of nowhere with her mom and friends all her life; and besides, she’s got the summer poetry course at Harvard to worry about.
This is What Happy Looks Like is a young adult, romance novel from Jennifer E. Smith. Although I am generally not a fan of these kinds of fiction, the book is surprisingly not very difficult to get invested in. The peek into the online exchanges of Ellie and Graham, though nothing new, is a nice touch. The unsent drafts at the beginning of part 2 broke my heart. Smith did a great job with writing the characters, especially the mom; she, to me, was the most relatable. Smith’s descriptives and dialogue are consistently animated. I absolutely enjoyed the exchange between Ellie and her mother during the Fourth of July celebration.
Of the few things I thought the novel could’ve worked on was revealing how much exactly Ellie and Graham knew about each other before they met. Also, the writing, at times, especially in the first part, felt a little forced. Ellie’s appreciation for poetry, for example, just came out of nowhere and Graham’s reveal to Quinn was uneventful. Dividing the novel into two parts was unnecessary. I’m sure there would’ve been a more subtle way to show the passing of time. The plot, later, becomes a little too complicated and by then, all I wanted was for a denouement that didn’t call for some cheesy deus ex machina (which, thankfully, it didn’t).
This is What Happy Looks Like didn’t leave me with much, but that’s maybe because I’m not into the genre. It is a lighthearted, romance novel and for that, it is pretty good. It had me invested in the story and characters; and though a bit bland, it did have a satisfying ending. I honestly would pass on another Smith novel if something more my speed was available, but if you enjoy reading about young love and all its complications, the book is definitely worth picking up. There is also a sequel novella called Happy Again if you have read the book and are interested in more.