This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith


Not too long ago, on a flight between Boston and Dallas, I had the good fortune to sit next to a fellow book lover. As we flew across most of the country, we talked about favorite books and the titles in our “to read” piles. One book she recommended was This Is What Happy Looks Like, a young adult novel by Jennifer E. Smith. The title stood out because I had seen a few references to it, and as the summer drew near, I saw it on several summer reading lists. I finally had a chance to read it, and can tell you that if someone had walked onto our deck this afternoon and seen me reading Smith’s novel, they would have known “what happy looks like.” You can’t help smiling while reading the book. It’s so summery that it should come with suntan lotion and a cold beverage. But…don’t be mistaken. I’m not saying “beach read” to signal some kind of guilty pleasure without much true merit. Smith is really good. Even though I’m an adult reader who knew exactly how it would end (don’t you?), I still found myself racing to the end.

I knew it was going to be good from the first page. The novel opens with an e-mail exchange between Graham Larkin and Ellie O’Neill, the two main characters. Graham, a teenage movie star, is writing to ask a friend to take care of his pet pig….Wilbur!  How can you not love a character who has a pig named after Charlotte’s Web. Graham’s e-mail included a typo in the address box which results in his message landing in Ellie’s in-box. Ellie lives in a small town Maine with her mother, but the teenagers begin a cross-country correspondence which becomes meaningful to both of them. It isn’t long before Graham uses his star power to arrange for his film to be shot on location in the land of lobsters and blueberries.

This Is What Happy Looks Like is a delicious book. The local ice cream shop is called Sprinkles which kind of sums up the whole vibe.  What I particularly enjoyed is that the story is told from both Graham’s and Ellie’s points of view, giving the reader a peek into how each of them see their budding romance and their misunderstandings. 

One other thing that will make you happy is this article from the Los Angeles Times Review of Books. I stumbled on it while reading different summer reading lists – one of my hobbies. It’s called “Ten Things I Learned from Loving Anne of Green Gables.”  Written by Sarah Mesle, it is just a lovely piece of writing. This excerpt is a good example:

When I talk about loving Anne with dear friends who also love Anne, we are not advocating particular novels so much as we are describing loving words, loving the past, loving names, loving Megan Follows, loving and being loved by your friends even when they don’t fully understand you, loving reading in the corner at a slumber party while everyone else watches TV, loving a long walk, loving, most of all, the ability to find a sense of place. What we are saying is that Anne was our wardrobe, our tornado — our portal to the capacity within ourselves to make the mundane world magical.”

Those words me want to cry. Mesle describes exactly what good books do – they make the “mundane world magical.”  Here’s a link to the article:


5 thoughts on “This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed This is What Happy Looks Like! I loved Graham and Ellie. Such a fun, summery, magical book.

    I saw that article on Anne too and loved every word.

  2. The quote about Anne gave me chills! I adore Anne and now feel the need to curl up and re-read them AGAIN.

    I’m adding This is What Happy Looks Like to my ‘To Read’ list.

    • Hi Carie,
      I was so happy to hear from you! Happy Summer –
      I hope Zander is doing well and reading lots of good books.

      • We are doing great and Zander is loving summer since he gets to play with his cousins at Mimi’s house all day. He showed them the library yesterday since he is a “seasoned pro” and got lots of books. His Mimi is making him branch out a bit from the train books that he checks out every time. And I think she is going to start reading a chapter book with all of them (ages 9,7, and 5) – The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe.

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