The Teacher Recommends: This Is What Happy Looks Like

Today’s post by YA book reviewer and middle school teacher, Melissa Carpenter | @MelissaCarp

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?

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is the author of THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS (2014), FLIGHT OF DREAMS (2016), and I WAS ANASTASIA (2018). Her books have been translated into numerous languages and have been Library Reads, One Book One County, and Book of the Month Club selections. She is the co-founder of SheReads.org and lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee, with her family.

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8 Responses to The Teacher Recommends: This Is What Happy Looks Like

  1. Gwyn May 10, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    I finished “The Giver” last month. It was wonderful.

  2. Kathy May 10, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    This book sounds like one I need to read. I’m writing a YA novel and my dialogue with teens is far too mature (according to my writing group). This book should be one to help me write in a teenagers lingo, albeit in the 1960’s. Thanks for a great writeup for this novel.

  3. Melissa Carpenter May 10, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    Gwyn – The Giver is one of my all-time favorites! My students probably get tired of me relating everything to something from The Giver.

    Kathy – You’ll love this one, then! Good luck with your novel. 🙂

  4. Glynis May 10, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    This sounds wonderful! Maybe I’ll pick it up and share with my almost 13-year-old. Would be fun to read a book together.

  5. Katherine Jones May 10, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    Okay, you sold me. Even though I don’t usually touch YA, adding this one to my summer reading pile.

  6. Susan C. May 13, 2013 at 10:17 am #

    The Goats by Brock Cole is the ultimate bullying YA novel. A must read for all, young and old alike!

  7. Hallie Sawyer May 15, 2013 at 10:17 pm #

    The Fault in Our Stars by John Green was the last one I read and quickly became an all-time favorite. It’s a must-read for any YA fans.

  8. Mccayde January 12, 2015 at 10:17 am #

    Yeah that’s what I’m talking about ba-b-ynice work!

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