Happiness shouldn’t be this hard.
In the months after his father’s suicide, it’s been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again–but he’s still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he’s slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.
When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron’s crew notices, and they’re not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can’t deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can’t stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute’s revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.
Why does happiness have to be so hard?
Where do I start with MHTN? My first impression was that it was similar to Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which isn’t a bad thing. Ari & Dante is one of my favorite books so to be able to recreate the same feeling I had when reading it is a huge plus. At the same time, MHTN still managed to feel like its own unique story.
MHTN takes place in the Bronx, New York in a time where a medical procedure exists that suppresses memories to help people deal with traumatic events. The plot follows a young man named Aaron Soto as he begins to doubt his identity after a chance encounter with another young man named Thomas. And that’s pretty much all you need to know.
I found the plot very slow at times, especially at the beginning. I read it quickly enough but I wasn’t hooked until about halfway in. I would have preferred the first half of the book to be a little shorter in favour of expanding on the second half but who knows, in a couple years I may reread this book and find it perfect as is.
Despite the length and pace of the first half of the book I think it talks about important topics in gender other than sexuality. Masculinity is a huge theme explored in this book and whether this was intentional or not, Adam Silvera wrote a very important piece of fiction regarding the male experience in a patriarchal society. For example, how toxic patriarchal masculinity is to both queer and non-queer individuals which was one of my favorite parts.
For me the sci fi aspect found in the memory alteration part of the story helped set it apart from Ari & Dante. It allowed for a better exploration of identity through both current and past experiences while intermingling with the other themes. And I know I keep mentioning the themes but stay with me. This book is like a huge melting pot of powerful and relevant themes that were just done so freaking well.
The characters for me were great. Aaron was sensitive and artsy while Thomas was a free spirit who never did anything he didn’t want to do nor did he let anyone define him. They were from neighbouring communities and different social classes yet, it was a highly enjoyable relationship and crafting of characters that did not fit the old saying: “boys will be boys”. I also really loved Aaron’s family, his girlfriend, Genevieve, and his babysitter, Evangeline. They were so very important to the story and each had their own little arcs throughout the novel.
To end, I want to say that this is by no means a happy book. Seriously. This is a book about hardship, friendship, love, loss and identity and it will break your heart. It definitely broke mine. Despite all of the emotions and the tears that welled up in my eyes, I would read this book over and over again.
Updated on 16/9/2015