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You Are Now Approved to Read, Economic Hardship in More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera


When I use my debit card at the grocery store, I always breathe a deep sigh of relief when this work pops up on the little thingy ma bob letting me know that my transaction has been approved. I usually call the bank before I go, getting an idea of how much I can spend. And if I have to go to a business lunch or dinner I get cash out before I go, fearing that my card will be rejected in front of others, people that I care about. This all comes with the territory when you live paycheck to paycheck, this moment when you’re sweating bullets and hoping beyond hope that the magical words “approved” will appear on the tiny little screen before you.

Which bring me to the book More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera.

More Happy Than Not is one of the most creative, jaw dropping, holy crap did that just happen books I have read in a long time. It is also one of the more authentic portraits of living in poverty or near poverty that I have read in a very long time.

Aaron Soto, our main character, is a young man growing up in a single parent home after his father’s suicide. Money is tighter than tight. He and his brother share a room in the small apartment with the four walls barely staying up that his family lives in. He has a job and a girlfriend and is struggling with his own issues, especially since it turns out that he might be gay and isn’t likely to get a lot of support on this topic from his friends and neighbors.

There is a scene where Arron and his girlfriend go to a comic book store and when he swipes his ATM card to buy a comic, it is declined. His girlfriend offers to go ahead and buy it for him, but pride leads him to shake off the offer. It’s a brief scene, but it’s an important one that helps us establish many things about Aaron, including how desperately poor he and his family really are. It’s a brief glimpse into the very real struggles of not having enough cash on hand to buy even the most basic, simplest of pleasures. It’s not a huge amount, just a few dollars, but Aaron can’t even swing this small amount.

And then there is Aaron and his brother’s room situation. They are a family of three living in a one room apartment. Thing 2 is friends with a girl who are a family of 7 living in a 3 bedroom apartment since their family had to move in with grandparents after losing everything. Two teenage brothers on my street share a full mattress that rests on the floor of their room since having to move after their father lost his job and they lost their home to foreclosure in another state. And these are just a few of the very real scenarios of friends, families and neighbors who, like Aaron, are counting pennies and standing before that card reader at the cash register praying to see the word approved pop up on the screen.

Just yesterday I shared on Tumblr what I thought the greatest threat to the American family was today, and it’s not the issue that my preacher has been preaching from the pulpit about or that conservative media is putting in the headlines. Tonight 1 in 5 children will go to bed hungry. Tonight there are teenagers sleeping on a mattress on a floor in a barely furnished apartment while their hard working parents get food from the local food bank to supplement what they are able to purchase at the store. As someone who cares about, works with and advocates for teens, I stunned every day by the stories they share about the struggles their families are facing to barely survive. And I am grateful to the literature that reflects those stories in the little details, like we see here in Aaron’s story. More Happy Than Not succeeds on so many levels, but what I appreciated most was that in the midst of this fabulous and quite frankly mindblowing storytelling, author Adam Silvera was able to authentically portray real world teenagers struggling with impoverishment.

Aaron’s story is moving because even in the most fantastical details of this story, we know that there are teens facing many of the same struggles that Aaron does every day.

My verdict on More Happy Than Not: Approved (and highly recommended)

More on Teens, Hunger and Poverty in our Teen Issues series:

See also Stacked: Socioeconomic Class in Contemporary YA Lit: Where Are The Poor Teens? Guest Post by Librarian Faythe Arrendondo and Kate Brauning: Writing Poverty in YA



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