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

This is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. SmithThis is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith ( web | tweet )
Publication Date: April 2, 2013
Publisher: Poppy (Hachette Books)
Pages: 416
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: Summer, fate, celebrities, secrets
Format read: ARC paperback from Publisher. (Thank you!)

Summary: A wrongly addressed email leads to an unlikely friendship between Graham and Ellie, who share a ton of details with each other but never their names. While Ellie lives in a small town in Maine with her mom, Graham is actually a huge Hollywood heartthrob. When his next filming location falls through, Graham decides to test fate and gets the production to move to Ellie’s hometown, where they will hopefully meet once and for all.

It’s kind of surreal to think one tiny blunder could have the power to totally change your life, isn’t it?

This is exactly what happens when Graham’s email about his pet pig accidentally pops up in Ellie’s inbox. A funny whoops leads to an unexpected friendship, where Graham and Ellie eagerly swap emails about small details of their lives, intimately getting to know each other without exchanging names.

Because if they did exchange names, Ellie would immediately recognize Graham as the Graham Larkin and really, what’s the point of names anyway? It’s not like they will ever meet, or these emails will amount to any more than a total highlight to their days. Right? But Graham uses his status to his advantage and when the opportunity comes up to spend a summer shooting a film in Ellie’s hometown, he makes it happen. It’s almost farcical when we find out Ellie’s frustrated that a film crew is disrupting her beloved town’s summer, and Graham is wondering what is going to happen when he finally introduces himself to the girl, the only girl, he feels really knows him.

(Oh, the pressure and zany missteps that lead to their meeting!)

In Jennifer E. Smith’s fourth YA novel, she takes a once in a lifetime occurrence and writes it as if it is the most natural thing in the world. Lyrical prose transported me to that small (“where everyone knows your name”) sea town and had me salivating for all the sight and sounds and feels of summer: the unbearable heat, the relief of a swim, the ice cream, the stars, and the bubbling possibilities. There’s a delicate yet smooth rhythm to this book that reminded me much of her second, You Are Here. Graham and Ellie are two characters who are both going through an internal exploration: the aftermath of his fame and what he really wants for himself while she is haunted by a secret that her and her mom have buried and her need to stay in control, even when she needs to ask for help. (This secret? Not a fan of this sub-story line, and kept me wondering, right through the end, how necessary it really was. Didn’t Graham and Ellie have enough hurdles without this?)

One common thread between Smith’s work, one I believe sets her apart in the young adult genre, is the way she crafts relationships between her characters. They are not solely based on chemistry and attraction, and much of the time, are built upon something so much more: shared interests and bonding over silly yet important details; there is a certain amount of maturity given to these characters and friendship becomes the root of any romance. The possibility of Graham and Ellie working out feels that much truer because of it.

It’s true that This is What Happy Looks Like is not The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. It took some time for me to adjust my own expectations accordingly because timing wise, that 24-hour window we had in Stat doesn’t exist here, making the feel of these books so unbelievably different. The urgency, the intensity softens in Happy to more of a lull, to gorgeous, quiet moments that encompass a lot of introspection from both sides, as well as off-camera communication through emails (an added layer I loved).

I have the utmost respect for Smith’s writing and I don’t mind calling myself a Jennifer E. Smith cheerleader. Last year, I read every single one of her books and I found them each to be so refreshing and more delightful than the last (Great settings, personal challenges, romance, and dimensional family dynamics!). I appreciate that she took some risk in Happy, especially after coming off the (well-deserved) success of Stat. I love how she builds on such serendipitous instances, while steadily writing about relatable themes without underestimating her reader.

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Estelle: Sweet Summertime Reads – A Jennifer E. Smith Party!

Once I read The Statistical Probably of Love at First Sight, I was dead set on reading all of Jennifer E. Smith’s books. So I did. And this is what I discovered:

  • Her writing is always rich, lyrical, and beautiful.
  • Her characters are relatable and multi-dimensional.
  • Family is always a central theme.
  • Her books are dependably funny, touching, lovely and full of self-discovery and sweet romance.

Have I sold you yet?

They also pinpoint a few of the reasons I love summer:

baseball.

Jennifer’s debut novel, The Comeback Season, is all about a girl named Ryan whose memories of her deceased father are tied to the Chicago Cubs. After reading all of Jennifer’s books, THIS ONE IS MY FAVORITE. She amazingly weaves the history of the Cubs team within the story of Ryan and her family, and then Ryan and her relationship with another Cubs fan, Nick. The Comeback Season is a beautiful story about moving forward, getting up to bat, change, and love of many kinds.

As you can see from the pictures, I was born into a baseball loving family. Sure, we are Yankee fans but I spent many Sunday afternoons at the stadium as a kid keeping score and watching the team lose before their huge winning streak in the 90s. I might have lost some interest in college, but it picked right up again when I started dating my husband. We watch every single game, go to the stadium together, and enjoy having sports-like convos with our dads. Baseball is in my blood. It seems silly. But I think The Comeback Season depicted the tradition of baseball within the family perfectly. It means much more than a championship or a home run derby.

(My review.)

road trips.

You Are Here is born when Emma discovers she has a deceased twin brother — a fact her entire family has kept from her. She doesn’t exactly ask for permission to steal her brother’s car and road trip to uncover this secret part of her life. When her quiet neighbor, Peter, joins her unexpectedly (but thankfully) it seems that he’s a little mysterious and directionless himself.

We all know road trips are awesome. There were quite a few summers (evidence above) when my family and I zipped down to Florida — our car jam packed with movies, books, and snacks. Our destination was always Walt Disney World (surprise, surprise) and once in awhile we would stop for a night in St. Augustine. Sure, it took a lot longer than flying but I used to love writing in my journal on the open road, staying in hotels, and the excitement when we finally pulled up to the WDW entrance.

I really enjoyed You Are Here because it focused on Emma and her relationship with her family, especially with her older siblings. It was a quiet sort of novel with a lot of description and not as much dialogue but it was also lovely that Peter had his own story and his own conflicts to conquer. It was a novel you had to take your time with.

(Goodreads)

possibility.

There’s no photo collage I can make to really describe the possibility that summer brings. After the cold weather, I am desperate for fresh air, spending time in the sunshine, and stretching my legs. The summer could bring a million things: romance, new friends, old friends, family time, travel, new projects, a stretch of time in between school years, the much needed relaxation we all look forward to, a sigh of relief, the guts to do something we never thought we could do.

In STAT, Hadley didn’t know missing her first flight to London would mean meeting the cutest British boy she could ever imagine. In general, as a novel, STAT surpasses the romantic cover and actually has much more to do with Hadley’s relationship with her father, who is remarrying a woman she has never met. You never know what’s going to happen from June to September, and with Hadley, she had no idea what 24 hours would bring.

(My review.)

As you can tell, each Jennifer E. Smith book has felt extremely personal to me.

I hope you’ll add a few (or ALL) to your TBR lists for the summer!

Go team!

(Be sure to head over to Tara & Ginger‘s for more SWEET SUMMERTIME fun!)

Estelle: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Publisher: Poppy (Part of Hachette Books)
Pages: 256 pages
Publication Date: January 2, 2012
Target Audience: Young Adult
Format: Hardcover gifted to me by the lovely Magan.
Why I wanted to read it: An airport, a chance meeting, London, and that gorgeous cover.

Summary: When she misses her flight by 4 minutes, Hadley wants to take it as a sign from the universe that she is not meant to be at dad’s wedding (to a woman she has never met). But things start to look up when she meets Oliver, a cute British boy who ends up sitting next to her on the long flight…

I love an airport. Even after all the long lines and the pat downs and the random people who cut in line, there is something about an airport that I love. Maybe because it’s the in-between, the connector, between where you are and where you want to be. It’s almost mystifying — all of these different people rushing and sitting and passing through one space. You really never know what could happen.

When it came to The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, I was afraid. I had anticipated the release of this book for a long time and the last thing I wanted to be was disappointed. But it was far from a disappointment. Far, far from it. Sure, it was a simple story with common themes. A young girl upset with her father for leaving their family. She meets a guy on a flight, they talk for hours. What happens once they meet their destination? This could have easily fallen under the realm of cliché. Been totally superficial. But it was the meat of the story, the flow, and its pacing that made it a solid piece of writing.

Oliver is basically the epitome of any guy you would want sitting next to you on a long flight to London – he’s sweet, funny, thoughtful, swoon-worthy, likes Dickens and has an accent. He’s a good listener and he’s willing to “borrow” whiskey. I immediately could understand why Hadley felt so comfortable with him and was taken with him at first sight, basically.

But I was almost more invested in Hadley coming to terms with her father cheating on her mother, and marrying the woman he left them for. There was a lot of heavy stuff for her to sort through. I like the way Smith weaved present day with these past scenes that helped us to better understand why Hadley felt the way she did. Hadley could have easily been a character that was obsessed and driven by this sudden romance with Oliver but the procession of events felt extremely organic to me. I think I would have made all the same decisions.

Hadley was always braver and gutsier than she gave herself credit for, and even though the book only takes place over a period of 24 hours, it’s jam-packed with mini-adventures and character growth. For many of these characters, they are simply taking the first step in moving forward; while wonderful, it was also bittersweet because I wanted their stories to keep on going!

For me, The Statistical Probability of Love at First sight is just made up of a million elements I love in a great YA. An adorable yet smart male lead. A thoughtful leading lady who is struggling to understand her family and change. An immediate connection between the two people. An airport. Some time in London. And how sometimes horrible timing can be the best timing.

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