Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

Book Description:

Paperback, 224 pages (Reviewer's copy: ARC, 407 pages)
April 4, 2013, Headline Book Publishing

If fate sent you an email, would you answer?

In This is What Happy Looks Like, Jennifer E. Smith's new YA novel, perfect strangers Graham Larkin and Ellie O'Neill meet—albeit virtually—when Graham accidentally sends Ellie an email about his pet pig, Wilbur. In the tradition of romantic movies like "You've Got Mail" and "Sleepless in Seattle," the two 17-year-olds strike up an email relationship, even though they live on opposite sides of the country and don't even know each other's first names.

Through a series of funny and poignant messages, Graham and Ellie make a true connection, sharing intimate details about their lives, hopes and fears. But they don't tell each other everything; Graham doesn't know the major secret hidden in Ellie's family tree, and Ellie is innocently unaware that Graham is actually a world-famous teen actor living in Los Angeles.

When the location for the shoot of Graham's new film falls through, he sees an opportunity to take their relationship from online to in-person, managing to get the production relocated to picturesque Henley, Maine, where Ellie lives. But can a star as famous as Graham have a real relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie's mom want her to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?

Just as they did in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, the hands of fate intervene in wondrous ways in this YA novel that delivers on high concept romance in lush and thoughtful prose.

Source: Sam and Headline (Thank you!)

My Thoughts:

I'm going to be honest: since reading The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, I became a fan of Jennifer E. Smith. I'm happy to say that I was not disappointed with This is What Happy Looks Like. In fact, I loved it even more than Smith's Statistical!

From page one, I was swept into the story of two teens who wrote emails to one another: G and E. The big role of fate came into play once again. One simple mistake - the misspelling of an email address - caused G and E to meet, albeit virtually. As I was reading the exchange of emails, I was amazed with the concept of it. The way they wrote to one another was so realistic, with caution because they were strangers still, but with a sense of lightness and easiness that came with talking to a person you assume you'll never see in your whole life. Getting a glimpse into their personalities through their emails was also something that I really appreciated. It was subtle yet oh-so-present.

Graham Larkin was not the most appealing male character I've encountered but for some reason he stood out with his easy humor, his deep appreciation of the things around him and most of all, his solitude. He has a private, sad side though: his fame drove a wall between him and his family, friends and the old world he moved around in. Most of the time, when he was not out shooting movies or promoting movies, he would stay at his house. Alone. As a beginner in Hollywood, he never imagined how fast his life would change, as well as the way the people he knew treated him. He got a new flashy world, fame and money but in exchange his ties with his old world slipped through his fingers. I felt his sadness and his loss. Throughout the book, I got emotionally attached to him.

While I didn't get as close to Ellie as I was with Graham, I liked her as a character. She had dignity and stood up for the most important things in life. She knew what she wanted and although sometimes she allowed herself to be held back by fear and uncertainty, eventually she would chase her dreams and follow her heart's desire. What I liked most about Ellie was the way she thought. She had a special way of putting ideas together in a sentence, of appreciating everything around her and most of all, of appreciating Graham not as the Hollywood actor but as G, the guy she emailed with.

I would say that their relationship was more emotional than physical, which is not something that I often see in YA. I really enjoyed reading about how each one of them was pulled towards the other, experiencing an almost magnetic pull, not because of sexual tension but because of love and the simple desire to be together. It was refreshing to be able to read about Graham and Ellie's face-to-face conversations. There was a deep sense of familiarity between them that makes every line almost effortless. It was like seeing two people across the street and feeling and guessing that they would be together for a long time. Although they belonged to two entirely different worlds, they were strongly connected by their understanding and love.

The novel also had dramatic parts, which I could easily imagine being a part of a movie. The drama came out of the complicated situation of Graham and Ellie amidst the media. Paparazzi were everywhere and they needed to be extra careful with being seen together for entirely different reasons. Graham's manager wanted him to "date" his co-star, Olivia, and Ellie's mom wanted her to steer clear of cameras. Despite all the trouble, Graham and Ellie found their way back to each other. Another thing that involved drama were the exploration and examination of Ellie's relationship with her mother and her friendship with Quinn. Since she grew up without a father, her mother was her only source of support and parental love. Upon Graham's arrival in Henley, he became the reason for Ellie's arguments with her mother. There was a clash of opinions on what Ellie should do with Graham. Ellie's friendship with Quinn was challenged. Although they have been in fights before, this was the first time when Ellie had to go through the entire experience without her best friend by her side. She carried all the worries and the problems inside her.

The writing was breathtakingly beautiful. It stole my breath, transported me to a colorful story world and wrapped me in delicious words. Although I preferred first-person narration, the third-person narration, albeit detached, enabled me to get into the minds of both Graham and Ellie, as well as to see the bigger picture.

This is What Happy Looks Like is a heart-achingly beautiful contemporary romance that will let readers taste the sweetness of finding love and being favored by fate, the bitterness of sadness of loss and the bittersweet flavor of realizations and inevitable endings. With well-developed main characters, awe-inducing workings of fate and an atmospheric setting, this unforgettable novel will draw readers in and transform them into believers of 'meant-to-be' things. In short, This is What Happy Looks Like is perfection. I highly recommend this to readers of contemporary romance, fiction with humor, and fiction that involves the handiwork of fate.


5 Cupids = Eternal book love.
I will never, ever, ever forget this book. I highly recommend this!


  1. I have to agree, Graham wasn't a swoon worthy male character but I just loved his character.. if you get what I mean? I enjoyed this novel but not as much as Smith's Statistical.

    Great review,
    - Juhina @ Maji Bookshelf

  2. I'm actually really looking forward to meeting Graham! Like he might not be the most appealing, but his character sounds interesting! Can't wait to read this one.

    Great review!

  3. I still need to read one of Jennifer E. Smith's books but they do sound really, really good judging by the high star reviews I've been reading over the past few months! Great review!

  4. I saw the photo Kai captured while she was reading the email exchanges. They sound sooo cute!
    Cannot wait to read this! Have to read Statistical first, though. You know me. LOL! XD