What: How to Be Happy by David Burton
Who: Text Publishing
When: August 26th 2015
How: A copy of this novel was provided by Text Publishing for review.
A funny, sad and serious memoir, ‘How to Be Happy’ is David Burton’s story of his turbulent life at high school and beyond. Feeling out of place and convinced that he is not normal, David has a rocky start. He longs to have a girlfriend, but his first ‘date’ is a disaster. There’s the catastrophe of the school swimming carnival – David is not sporty – and friendships that take devastating turns. Then he finds some solace in drama classes with the creation of ‘Crazy Dave’, and he builds a life where everything is fine. But everything is not fine.
And, at the centre of it all, trying desperately to work it all out, is the real David.
‘How to Be Happy’ tackles depression, friendship, sexual identity, suicide, academic pressure, love and adolescent confusion. It’s a brave and honest account of one young man’s search for a happy, true and meaningful life that will resonate with readers young and old.
How do you review a book when the “main character” is an actual person … without sounding like an asshole? Well, I’m going to try.
I’m just going to come out and say that I didn’t really like Dave. Firstly, I didn’t like the way he treated Ray – buying into the all too common high school trope of hating on anyone who is different, and throwing insults at them along the lines of “freak”. Dave was Ray’s one friend, and he completely ditched him to climb the social ladder. My view of him went extremely downhill after that. I also thought the way he referred to Ray as ‘darling Ray’ was really condescending and patronising, and altogether unnecessary.
As much as the book was written about Dave himself, I wasn’t particularly sold on a few parts. Even though his family was mentioned quite a bit, especially his little brothers, there wasn’t really any mention of what his home life was like most of the time. Did he help around the house? Did he help out with his brothers? What was his home life really like?
And even though this is non-fiction, I still find it incredibly hard to believe that Dave was getting mostly As without studying. I have never met one person in my entire life with that uncanny ability, and I just straight up did not believe it. It’s really freaking hard to do well academically.
Another aspect I was wary of was the talk about Dave’s sexuality. He wanted to date girls (and only dated girls), but also fantasised about guys. At one point, he became an advocate for gay rights, because he thought he was gay. The word ‘bisexual’ is used, in the way that Dave explains that the possibility of being bi never occurred to him. But then this isn’t elaborated on whatsoever. When, exactly, did he realise he was bisexual? Did he ever realise, or was he simply fantasising about guys without ever wanting to pursue it (which did actually happen at one point)? I thought that leaving this aspect out was pretty detrimental, to be honest, because I feel like a lot of this book was supposed to be helpful, and this just really lacked any kind of closure.
I did quite like the writing style, though. It was pretty immersive and engaging, which I appreciated. There were some humorous passages throughout, and the tone was overall very conversational.
To be honest, I simply wasn’t a huge fan of How to Be Happy, which is a shame because I had been really looking forward to reading it. I hope I don’t sound like an asshole for actually not liking a real person’s actions, but I tried my very best.
© 2015, Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity. All rights reserved.