Book #19

HappyHead by Josh Silver

We are in an epidemic. An epidemic of unhappiness.

Friends, here is the good news: HappyHead has the answer.

When Seb is offered a place on a radical retreat designed to solve the national crisis of teenage unhappiness, he is determined to change how people see him and make his parents proud. But as he finds himself drawn to the enigmatic Finn, Seb starts to question the true nature of the challenges they must undergo. The deeper into the programme the boys get, the more disturbing the assessments become, until it’s clear there may be no escape.

A difficult book to tear your eyes from, but even more difficult to describe and review. As I sit here, with no notion of where to begin, all I can remember is the overwhelming feeling of having to inhale every word, and the utter gutwrench of the finale.

Silver has done something special here. Although some would have you believe this novel is akin to The Hunger Games, I don’t subscribe to that opinion. Yes, we have a group of teenagers in an unsettling and veiled circumstance, where trusting authority may or may not be the best option. The similarities end there.

We explore the idea that an epidemic of unhappiness has infiltrated the minds of the nation, particularly our young people. What if preventative measures could be taken to allow our young minds to be happy? Some sort of wellness retreat or boot camp? Enter HappyHead - the one thing that will make everything better. Tasks, assessments, and teamwork all combine to allow the students to be analysed, catergorised, and ultimately scored. It all seems fairly innocuous, if odd, until things begin to be cast in a strange shadow of doubt.

I was immediately engrossed with this. Silver’s writing allows you become immersed with Seb’s experiences working through both the HappyHead process and his own identity, as they seem not to fit together. From the beginning, there are undertones of disquiet - something feels off; I believed my brain had been programmed to persevere at all costs, and to discover the motives and person behind all of these perplexing cogs.

To say anything else would be cruel of me, as this is one best experienced with an open and untarnished mind. What I will say is that the finale came at me like a slap in the face, and I am craving a sequel.