By Ekta R. Garg
September 27, 2017
Genre: Women’s fiction
Release date: September 5, 2017
Rated: Bookmark it! / 4 stars
When a woman runs—almost literally—into a patient with only three months left, she’s sure it’s confirmation of everything bad in life. The patient surprises her, however, by teaching her something about living. Author Eva Woods takes a formulaic plot and brings it alive with a sweet story and endearing characters in her new novel Something Like Happy.
Annie Hebden has every right to be mad at life. She lost her only child. Her husband ran away with her best friend. Her mother received the devastating diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s and most recently fell down and hurt her leg. She lives in a run-down apartment with a roommate who is practically a child—in his maturity level, at least—and she despises her job.
So Annie Hebden knows she’s fully justified in hating her life. She made all the right decisions, and every one of them had the wrong outcome. Now she’s just trying to be there for her mother; it seems like it’s the only outlet left for her to do any good.
On the day that Annie runs into Polly Leonard, though, something changes. Polly, the patient with the brain tumor. Polly, the woman who tells Annie with unbelievable cheerfulness that her condition is terminal. Polly challenges Annie to a duel of sorts: for the next three months, or one hundred days—give or take—do one thing every single day to make herself happy. It’ll be fun, Polly asserts, a challenge they can undertake as friends.
A new friendship is above and beyond anything that Annie wants right now. After all, she made every effort to break ties with her old friends after her marriage fell apart. But Polly’s aggressive jollity first irritates and then intrigues Annie so much that it becomes infectious; it’s the best kind of contagion to share under the circumstances. As they look for ways to make themselves happy, an extraordinary thing happens. The very sorrows that bound them in the first place end up giving them strength to see their biggest challenge yet all the way through.
Author Eva Woods uses a tried and true story as the basis for her novel but manages to take an every-day plot and make it her own. While the idea may sound like so many romantic comedies that show up in the theaters every summer, Woods keeps her book grounded by keeping her characters grounded. Annie’s transformation may be well charted from the opening chapter, but that doesn’t make it any less real.
Her struggles will tug at readers’ hearts, which makes her reluctance to change that much more impactful. Annie needs someone like Polly in her life, but Woods also gives Polly depth. Polly grapples with her mortality in a way that readers will relate to. She laughs, she cries, she accepts it and then is in disbelief of it—her emotions go from high to low, strong to weak, and she will certainly have readers nodding along.
A few of the minor plot devices may come across as a touch contrived, but a story like this thrives on those contrivances. Also, they never get out of hand or seem out of place. Readers will be most concerned with Annie and Polly’s friendship and will have no trouble forgiving some of the less realistic elements in the story itself in order to cheer on this unlikely duo. Some of the secondary characters may come across as stock characters or placeholders for the things Annie needs in order to change, but Woods handles them with love and respect.
For anyone wanting a quick read that balances encouragement with a down-to-earth story, I recommend they Bookmark Something Like Happy.