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

Jennifer E. Smith gets the cutest covers in the world, doesn't she? I  picked up The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight almost entirely on the merits of its adorable cover alone. And when I saw the cover for This is What Happy Looks Like, I immediately began daydreaming about how happy they would look next to each other on my shelves--an activity I engage in all too often when it comes to books of a feather. And given how much I loved The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, I felt that my feelings for her next novel were sort of a foregone conclusion. Especially when you take into account the much-billed You've Got Mail meets Notting Hill premise. I ask you--who can resist the wild potential of that setup? No one. That is who. But one of the things I loved the most about The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight was how it packed so much more of a punch than its name or cover suggested. It was deeper and wider than its slim-ish page count and 24-hour time period foretold. I don't think I realized going into this one how much I was counting on the same thing being true of it.

Ellie O'Neill and Graham Larkin don't know each other at all. Ellie is the daughter of an ex-waitress turned shop owner in the backwoods town of Henley, Maine. Graham is an all American kid turned movie star from California. The two have nothing at all in common (except perhaps a love for Charlotte's Web) until Graham mistypes a single email address, hits send, and it winds up in Ellie's inbox way on the other side of the country. His misplaced missive ignites what evolves into a lively correspondence in which the two teenagers exchange jokes, detail their day-to-day goings on, their hopes, their dreams, and ruminate on what "happy" looks like. Neither of them quite realize how much the burgeoning virtual friendship means to them until the location for Graham's upcoming rom-com falls through, and he finds himself suggesting Henley as a possible alternative. And with that one act, he somewhat wittingly, somewhat unwittingly sets the two of them on a collision course. The results are both enlightening and unexpectedly fraught as Graham finds a kind of home in the most unlikely of places and Ellie grapples with a secret she promised never to tell. Soon Graham's time in Henley will be up. And where will they go from there?

This is What Happy Looks Like has a great deal of charm going for it. Graham and Ellie are eminently likable. The lovable happenstance of their "meeting" is difficult to resist. And the small-town Maine setting is one I've enjoyed in the past and that is once again used to great effect here. Smith's writing is capable and occasionally lovely, if not as consistently so as it was in The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. One of the lovelier observations here (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
No matter how long it's been or how far you've drifted, no matter how unknowable you might be, there were at least two people in the world whose job it was to see you, to find you, to recognize you and reel you back in. No matter what.
I feel that one of Jennifer E. Smith's real strengths is the upfront, sensitive way in which she depicts families. Her characters' romantic entanglements are not resolved in place of their familial relationships, but as a result of their dealing with them first. Sometimes the one unfolds along with the other, and often they help one another work through their baggage. What I'm saying is their priorities are generally in order, and I dig that about Smith's characters (and her books). Like Hadley, Ellie struggles with father issues. These issues are, in fact, meant to be pivotal to the story. But where Hadley's felt incredibly real and meaningful to me, Ellie's rarely cross the border from the tepid into the profound. So when the plot takes a turn to explore that vein, I felt ambivalent when I should have been riveted. As for Ellie and Graham, I liked them all right. But I never truly fell for them in a way that made me unable to look away. They are both good people. They're good and they're well-intentioned and they're dedicated to achieving their goals for the future. I was happy that they found one another. I wanted them to find a way to be together. I just didn't feel compelled to stick around and watch it happen. They "looked" like happy to me, if you will, but they failed to inspire the real emotion behind the exterior. In the end, This is What Happy Looks Like has all the key elements of a competent, if somewhat bland romantic comedy, but it lacks that certain spark that makes it a keeper.

This is What Happy Looks Like is due out April 2nd.

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Comments

  1. This book looks great! :D I'm adding it to my list!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Glad it sounds good to you, Hipster. Hope you enjoy it.

      Delete
  2. Anonymous3:44 PM

    Sorry this one isn't a keeper, but I thank you again for a great review. I wanted to read it, but I wasn't sure about it.

    By the way, I canceled my Spear of Summer Grass pre-order and pre-ordered the next Liza Palmer instead.

    KarenS

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, just didn't float my boat the way I was hoping it would. Nothing wrong with it and I know tons of people are going to adore it. But it was too flat for me.

      Good call with the Palmer! I'm looking forward to that one. She always meets expectations.

      Delete
  3. Anonymous5:11 PM

    Aww, I'm sorry you were a bit disappointed with this. I still can't wait to get my hands on it. I love a good romantic comedy.

    Besides, I heard there was a character named Quinn! I have to check that out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. *sigh* Them's the breaks.

      There IS a character named Quinn! Hope you like her.

      Delete
  4. I didn't know you had an ARC of this? I started it the other night and was feeling ambivalent so I picked up something else. I didn't get very far but at this point I'm worried that all the coincidences between the emails and Ellie and Graham meeting will be too sweet and far fetched for my taste.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah, one arrived awhile back and I was just waiting for when it felt right. It's really too bad. It just did not work for me on any of the levels that tSPoLaFS did. The coincidences didn't bother me actually. I knew the setup going in so I knew what to expect. And there are very sweet moments. But next to nothing to underline them, back them up. Le sigh.

      Delete
  5. This is on my wish list because I read THE STATISTICAL PROBABILITY OF LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT. So I winced when I read the last paragraph of your review for the new book. I appreciate your honest review though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lin, I totally understand. I was *really* looking forward to it. Definitely let me know if you do read it, though. I think the people who love this one are going to really love it. Which is just fine. It just felt a bit skin-deep to me.

      Delete

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