Imagine Us Happy by Jennifer Yu
Releases October 26
It doesn’t feel like I could ever be that off the rails again, even though I’m sure that’s how I felt before everything started going to shit the first time around.
I have not emotionally connected to a book this much in… so long. I hate this and love this. Some of you might know that I am really, really into books about 1) depression, and 2) toxic parental relationships, and 3) toxic romantic relationships. This… hit me hard in all three categories. Thank god for how good this was.
So before I get into why I loved this so much, I’ll just mention objective quality and all that? Imagine Us Happy is told out of chronological level, a choice that worked quite well for the story being told; we know from the beginning that this will not end well, but we see the good parts along with the bad. It also works fantastically for conveying Stella as a character; she is so difficult not to connect with and relate to.
I will readily admit that a good portion of my enjoyment of this book was that I connected to Stella, as a character, a lot.Stella is dealing with depression and a lack of support system via her parents, which has led her to seek valiation in someone who is dealing with issues but in a very, very unhealthy way. She, meanwhile, is not in a place where she realizes what is going on with her or
Okay, bear with me, as this is really rather personal and something I haven’t talked about, but I don’t know how to review this book without talking about this.
I was recently in a relationship with someone whom I absolutely believe cared about me, and who had very, very good intentions in pursuing a relationship. The relationship was also, though I didn’t realize it at the time, not good for either of us. And I did not realize it at all because I had not come to terms with my own fear of rejection or perhaps more accurately, as I’ve recently realized, my deep-set fear that I would become an abusive partner.
So the relationship stopped being a good place for me to be, and I said nothing about it because I was desperately afraid of hurting them. I became increasingly convinced that any problems with the relationship were not compatibility issues, or their ongoing mental health issues, or anything that impacts a relationship, but my fault. There were times where they contributed to this, but I doubt it would have impacted me at all if not for my own deep-held feeling that I was destined to be a selfish and manipulative person and partner. I tried to push down my own feelings. I isolated myself from both my therapist and my friends because I was unwilling to “talk behind their back,” which began to mean no one in my life – and I do mean no one – knew what was happening in any way. My friends would have told you I seemed perfectly happy, and I got very good at pretending I was, but inside I was not at all.
So I think reading this book, in which someone goes through the same thing and they’re not villainized for it, meant a lot to me. I really liked that Stella eventually got through the period of the relationship via her best friends, as the support of one of my friends, and later several more, was essentially what got me through that, too.
Oh, and I loved her friends – Katie of the dead frog kink and Lin the John Steinbeck fangirl were so fun. Really though, I love that these two characters feel so un-stereotyped; Katie especially immediately read as the hot partier friend, and I completely assumed I knew how she would be characterized. I did not. Katie does not abandon her friends for greener pastures, not even when Stella pushes her away completely. And Lin, despite being the more academic-oriented of the two, does not read like the nerd archetype — she reads as more of the offbeat-english-major type, which does not show up a lot, and she’s not the unpopular member of their friend group. I liked this a lot – especially as she’s Asian, this is a great way of defying that particular stereotype.
Yeah, it reeks of weed, and the song “Don’t Stop Believin” has been played four times by 10:30 p.m., but chilling in her kitchen getting buzzed off beer while talking with Lin is not actually that far from my ideal Saturday night.
In general, I felt that this book got high school on a level that not a lot of books do? The details of Katie and Lin’s characterization certainly add to this, but it’s the little things, too. Like, there’s a line mentioning the party transitioning to “Iris” by the Goo Goo Dolls, and I laughed so hard because wow, been there.
Also, this quote so easily could have been cringey, but I laughed my ass off because t r u e:
“I think it would be great if everyone understood feminism. But let’s be realistic for a minute here. How many dudes were in your class?”
“Four,” I say.
“Twenty-five,” I admit.
“And how many of them were gay?” he asks.
I pause. “I plead the fifth.”
It’s funny – I sat on this review for so long, and now I think I should probably mention that while writing this part of my review – which took me a month of sitting on, by the way – I was thinking about how much better I am feeling, three months later, and how much that relationship taught me about my own insecurities and my flaws. And I also thought about the other person in that relationship and why we broke up, and I think… we’re both doing better now.
And I don’t know if I really wish that for the love interest in this book, but I do wish that for them. And I think I feel better now, about myself, writing this, than I have in seventeen years.
It’s a work in progress. But a good one. And this book understood it on a level I don’t think I’ve ever seen.
✨Arc received from the publisher via my local bookstore for an honest review. [ releases: October 2018.]