Here’s my confession: I have a HUGE crush on this book. In fact, I’ll tell you what happy looks like — my face when I’m reading Jennifer E. Smith’s sweet, funny, and cleverly written exchanges between Graham Larkin and Ellie O’Neill.
In this story, a simple mistake in typing an e-mail address leads to a correspondence between two teenagers from opposite sides of the country. The teenagers don’t know much of anything about each other, and yet it’s that anonymity through e-mail with a stranger that allows them to open up to each other about things they’d never tell anyone they actually knew. What results is a conversation of thoughts and feelings in the moment — things they can’t say out loud but can say to each other. This ranges from seemingly insignificant observations about the annoyingness of smiley faces used in e-mails (J) to the soul-searching question of what happiness looks like.
Each still holds an important secret, though.
Graham Larkin is a teen heartthrob movie star, trapped in a world of paparazzi and feeling like nobody really wants to be around him for him, but only for his looks and his fame. In his correspondence with Ellie, he gets to be himself and get to know her without the trappings of fame. He’s just a witty, smart, normal guy who’s falling for a girl he’s never met.
Ellie O’Neill is a seemingly typical small town girl, but she and her mom have changed their names to keep a scandalous past hidden. Ellie is the only child of a single mom, and life gets lonely even with her friends to keep her company. This anonymous pen pal deal is exactly what she needs — a guy she can be honest with and dream about.
Only, what if it doesn’t have to be a dream anymore? When Ellie lets her town’s name slip, Graham starts pulling strings and gets the location for his next movie shoot changed… to Ellie’s small coastal town. Sounds like every girl’s dream — what teenage girl doesn’t want the teen magazine centerfold showing up on her doorstep, ready to sweep her off her feet? For Ellie, though, Graham’s fame and constant media attention complicate and change everything.
Watching these two characters navigate the challenges they each face as they explore the possibilities the future holds is great summer fun. The characters are great to spend some time with, the writing is full of smart romance and beautiful description, and the story holds enough excitement to keep us all daydreaming about our teenaged selves opening the door to find our adolescent celebrity man-crush there, declaring his love for us. All in all, I highly recommend you check out This Is What Happy Looks Like… and soon!
What was the last great YA novel you read?