American author Adam Silvera has been at the top of the New York Times bestseller list for months with his adult novel “Both Die at the End,” four years after it was published. The German translation of “In the End We Die Anyway” (2018) also reached the Spiegel bestseller list three years later. This belated success was due to the video platform TikTok, which includes the #booktok community. There, many young people portrayed their sometimes very emotional reactions to Silveira’s book. These videos have been watched millions of times. Since then, he is considered one of the most read authors in the youth book category – particularly in the LGBTQ+ area.
Arctis Verlag has now published Silvera’s first novel, “More Happy Than Not”, which was published in the US in 2015, with translation by Lisa Coggibon. With his autobiographical background, the story tells of sixteen-year-old Aaron Soto, who struggles with his gender identity. Like its author, he grew up in the Bronx, a multicultural area of New York where about 30 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.
Aaron can only dream about many things, like owning his own room. The mother needs two jobs to support the family. Aaron’s inner life is marked by the uncertainty and traumatic experience that he and his brother find their dead father in a bathtub. Aaron feels guilty about his father’s suicide, and at the beginning of the novel it is not clear why.
After a suicide attempt, the boy tries to regain control of his life. His girlfriend Genevieve offers him support. But then he also meets orphaned Thomas, a neighborhood boy who just left his girlfriend and wants to know what he really wants. The two are instantly close. And unlike Aaron’s former friends, Thomas knows how to comfort him. He repeatedly says “No human,” but Aaron has feelings he just can’t handle.
The pharmaceutical industry’s promise to make people viable or “normal” again with the right pills is also central to Silvera’s book. In the USA, it is known that the threshold for preventing the use of psychotropic substances for better functioning is relatively low. In the novel, before the first chapter, there is a page announcing the fictional Leto Institute, which promises to free people from unpleasant memories – perhaps the Leithy River from Greek mythology served as its namesake.
For the 2020 re-release of the book, Adam Silvera wrote a new ending, and a happy ending.
After Aaron breaks up with Genevieve, Thomas confesses his sexuality and finally his love, which Thomas does not reciprocate, Aaron is so desperate that he wants to be “treated” at the Leto Institute. But then tensions escalate with his ex-boyfriends, who can’t handle Aaron’s homosexuality and beat him to the point of hospitalization. This extremely violent experience takes a dramatic turn, and for Aaron a whole new problem dealing with memory. Thomas once said, “Happiness will return if you let it.” And that saying, which can come from the Chinese fortune cookie, finally opens Aaron’s eyes. He now knows what to do.
Adam Silvera also felt that there was still work to be done. For the book’s remake in 2020, he wrote a new ending, and a happy ending, with which he was “keen to give Aaron a long-awaited achievement.”
The novel is written for young people, in an authentic “silly” stylistic manner. It is difficult to assess whether a German translation can do this. For example, if a “dude-liker” is referred to as a “rare guy,” in English a lot of things sound cooler. Anyway, Silvera knows how to tell a lot of topics in a relaxed language and not only give an amazing twist to the story, but many aspects as well. (from 14 and youth)
Adam Silvera is happier than not. Translated from the English by Lisa Coggibon. Arctis, Zurich 2022. 409 pages, €18.