Ellie lives in a little town in the middle of nowhere, deliberately avoiding any attention. Graham is a teen film star. But when an email gone astray sparks a conversation between them, an unlikely friendship begins to develop. Or perhaps not just a friendship? Neither of them are sure how the other feels, especially when they’ve never met in real life. That is, until Graham hatches a plan to come to Ellie’s town and change everything.
Style & Pacing
The novel is all written in third person, but the perspective switches between Ellie and Graham. This was pretty well done; I never got confused about who was speaking. Sometimes things seemed to be happening a little slowly, but that might have been because I didn’t care all that much about the events being described. Everything technical in this book was strong, but the plot and characters didn’t really grab me.
Honestly, I didn’t really take to either Ellie or Graham, which was kind of problematic, since this book is almost entirely about their developing romance. In Graham’s case, this was because I never really felt like I got to know him all that well. I don’t know why, there was plenty of information about his life, but I never really understood why he did anything. I did feel like I understood Ellie, but she annoyed me. She felt like a cardboard cut out of the unique and artsy girl who Doesn’t Care About Celebrities and is a Special Snowflake Who Doesn’t Fit Society’s Mold. My favourite character was probably Quinn, but she was sadly written out for all of the action, and only showed up again at the very end.
This is what redeemed this book for me and kept me reading. It evoked the setting perfectly: the writing feels like lazy summer thoughts on a lazy summer day. I wanted more of Smith’s words, I wanted to make it to the 4th of July fireworks near the end of the book to hear her describe them. Even though I didn’t like Ellie or Graham all that much, I wanted to hear them describe each other, because it felt like… maybe not love, but the things you notice when you’re infatuated with someone. If nothing else, I was sold on the romance. I believed in the attraction between them, because the writing made me believe it.
Most everyone in town waited eagerly for Memorial Day, when the seasons clicked forward and the usual three-month frenzy of boaters and fishermen and honeymooners and vacationers invaded. But Ellie O’Neill had always dreaded it, and now, as she tried to pick her way through the thick knots of people in the village square, she was reminded of why. In the off-season, the town was hers. But on this blisteringly hot day at the start of June, it belonged to strangers again.
“Hey,” he said, glancing up at her and then away again. For some reason, he was having trouble looking at her directly, though it was all he wanted to do at the moment. Everything around them was gray – the trees, the rocks, the sky, even the slate-coloured water – and in the midst of it all, there was Ellie, with her red hair and white t-shirt, her jean skirt and rubber flip-flops. It should have been the most ordinary thing in the world – this girl on the beach – but somehow, it felt to Graham like he was staring at the sun.
It was a little bit like the taffy, this friendship of theirs; you could stretch and pull and bend it all out of shape, but it was no easy thing to break it entirely.
The closest thing I could think of that I actually remember the name of is Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, but it seems sort of unfair to compare the two, because Eleanor & Park is ten times better, in my opinion. So I’m not so much saying that you should read it if you liked This Is What Happy Looks Like as that you should read it instead.