Jennifer E. Smith
Contemporary Young Adult
Received from publisher via NetGalley
THE STORY (from Goodreads)
When teenage movie star Graham Larkin accidentally sends small town girl Ellie O'Neill an email about his pet pig, the two seventeen-year-olds strike up a witty and unforgettable correspondence, discussing everything under the sun, except for their names or backgrounds.
Then Graham finds out that Ellie's Maine hometown is the perfect location for his latest film, and he decides to take their relationship from online to in-person. But can a star as famous as Graham really start a relationship with an ordinary girl like Ellie? And why does Ellie want to avoid the media's spotlight at all costs?
This Is What Happy Looks Like is a beautiful blend of fantasy (of the daydream variety) and realism, playing out one of our recurring girlish musings wherein a beautiful boy from a world of fame and fortune falls for the small town sweetheart. This story could have been complete fluff, full of adorable unrealities and sigh-inducing-but-unlikely-moments, but Ms. Smith manages to imbue both Ellie and Graham with an intriguing authenticity and not-insignificant problems to ensure we get swept up in their lives even if they share so few similarities to our own.
Ellie is cute and endearing with a sharp wit that keeps her from being perhaps too perfect, delighting us from the first page with her online banter as she becomes a pen pal to current Hollywood It Boy Graham. Once she realizes who Graham is and that he is in fact the young man she’s been talking to for months, she doesn’t treat him any differently, quickly picking up their easy communication after her initial shock wears off. She has valid reasons for her hesitancy to pursue a relationship with Graham despite every young girl worldwide wishing they were in her shoes, but she never creates unnecessary drama and always approaches things with him with an understandable combination of wistfulness and wariness.
Graham, for his part, is as equally enjoyable a character as Ellie, charming us as he does her with short bursts of vibrant personality that shine through in each of his emails, and he follows up that effortless charisma with an unexpected and well-executed vulnerability. Graham could have easily been simply a character in a romantic comedy, all star quality and smiles with a hidden sadness underneath, and while that’s exactly what he is, he’s written in such a way that he emerges from the confines of ink, paper and labels to become flesh and blood. He never resorts to whining over the challenges of being famous even as they are made glaringly apparent to us, and he never looks for either sympathy or awe from Ellie, instead always putting himself out there to her and hoping she likes what she sees.
Overall, This Is What Happy Looks Like is a fun, light romance with two protagonists who add a little extra depth to familiar roles and make us fall in love with them all the more as a result. Those readers (like myself) who love their romances to be all neatly packaged at the end may find themselves a touch let down when they reach the last page, but eventually logic forces us to recognize the unlikeliness of a sixteen and seventeen year old finding their forever at such ages. Instead we’re left with the equivalent of a sweet kiss on the cheek – perhaps not the exact romantic fulfillment we might have been wishing for, but yet something that holds a great deal of promise and hope for the future.
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