Title: This is What Happy Looks Like
Author: Jennifer E. Smith
Rating: 4/5 stars
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 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 fear. 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?
Spanning one summer, Jennifer E. Smith’s novel proves that life – like love – is full of unexpected connections and happy mistakes.
So this is my first book review on this blog (unless you count my incredibly rambling A Court of Mist and Fury pseudo review which is more like a general fangirl explosion) so bear with me, I don’t know what I’m doing and this will be lots of word vomit. This is also my first review for the Archeron Sisters Book Club!
This book was exactly the kind of light, happy read I needed post-Empire of Storms. Sometimes I am reluctant to go completely off course after being so dedicated to one series or one specific genre for a while, but I’ve learned that a contemporary novel here and there gives me a nice break from the immense distraction that a great fantasy or dystopian series brings me.
This Is What Happy Looks Like follows Ellie O’Neal, a small-town seventeen-year-old girl living in a beach town in Maine, and Graham Larkin, a movie star from California filming in the same town one summer. The pair had accidentally met online through a rogue email, and a tentative romance begins between the two (because that’s exactly how real life happens, right?) They form an online friendship without baggage – Ellie doesn’t know she’s talking to *the* Graham Larkin, and Graham doesn’t know he’s talking to a girl with a complicated history being a presidential-hopeful’s illegitimate daughter – and Graham convinces his director to film the movie in Maine so that he might seek her out. The pair meet and instantly fall into a short-lived romance, their histories and their vastly different lives keeping them apart. Eventually, their mutual desire to be together and to delve into what makes them happy rather than what makes the world happy brings them back together.
Whilst unrealistic, I enjoyed this book. Of course, aren’t most contemporary novels unrealistic to a girl who could only hope something like this would happen? Regardless, I appreciated that the plot threw out minor hard-hitting issues like Ellie’s lack of a father figure in her life and Graham’s issues with his parents, which always makes the plot feel deeper to me. I enjoyed Ellie and Graham’s adorable banter and their open honesty with each other. It was nice to see a deep understanding develop between them with respect to their mutual constant consideration of media scrutiny, their family issues, and even their respective ways of life. Ellie could have as easily been in Graham’s place, and Graham had come from a similar small town before he because famous. I thought they were a nice match.
What irked me, however, was Ellie’s relationship with Quinn, her supposed best friend. I felt particularly detached from that plot line. To me, if I was someone’s best friend for our whole lives and she didn’t tell me she was emailing a boy, I would not resort to ignoring her for three weeks. I would say, “omg, why didn’t you tell me, tell me now”, or something along those lines. Maybe that’s just me. But Quinn bothered me immensely.
I particularly enjoyed the setting. It felt like a Nicholas Sparks book, and I love beach town romance stories, so this was right up my alley. I loved the imagery of the boats, the small locally owned shops, the rocks on the beach, and the sense of community in a small beach town. The Fourth of July scene in Kennebunkport, in particular, actually made me go out and buy a lobster roll. Living in New England has its perks.
Little tidbits about this book that made me happy: Ellie’s father is a senator from Delaware, which is my home state. I laughed at the fact that Delaware would ever, ever have a Republican senator in Congress. In addition, I particularly enjoyed that Graham felt like he was “staring at the sun” when he looked at Ellie – I’m particularly vulnerable about that type of imagery right now… *muffles cough behind hand and tries not to make this about Moriel*
Overall, I would recommend this to anyone who is missing the summer or needs a light-hearted romance to help a book hangover.
Check out Maggie’s and Emily’s reviews:
And don’t forget to stay tuned for our October book, Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake!