How To Be Happy Review

Saturday, 7 January 2017

How To Be Happy by David Burton
Rating: 4/5
Source: NetGalley
Released: 26th August 2015

A funny, sad and serious memoir, How to Be Happy is David Burton’s story of his turbulent life at high school and beyond. Feeling out of place and convinced that he is not normal, David has a rocky start. He longs to have a girlfriend, but his first ‘date’ is a disaster. There’s the catastrophe of the school swimming carnival—David is not sporty—and friendships that take devastating turns. Then he finds some solace in drama classes with the creation of ‘Crazy Dave’, and he builds a life where everything is fine. But everything is not fine.
And, at the centre of it all, trying desperately to work it all out, is the real David.
How to Be Happy tackles depression, friendship, sexual identity, suicide, academic pressure, love and adolescent confusion. It’s a brave and honest account of one young man’s search for a happy, true and meaningful life that will resonate with readers young and old.

It was the concept of this book that caught my attention, unfamiliar with the Authors theatre work I simply saw a book titled 'How To Be Happy' and thought; well, who doesn't need some of that in their life? I couldn't put the book down. From the very first page I was smiling, I don't read a lot of non-fiction so I wasn't sure what to expect from Burton's memoirs but it certainly wasn't the simple and friendly writing style.

"I don't know how to be happy.
Yeah, sorry. Awkward.
Okay, let me rephrase, I don't know how to make you happy."

I definitely got into the book more as it went on. Some of the later university chapters and the anecdotes about psychiatrists felt much more personal than the earlier high school years. It was those early high school chapters that made me give this book four stars instead of five. Reading about the lunchroom, the school bully, the anxiety and self harm; it all read as a little familiar. A very minor criticism but I would like to have seen less high school and more home life in those early chapters as we don't revisit David's family, his parents suffering from depression and twin brother's diagnosed with Aspergers, until the university years of his life when he literally drops in the line, "I should mention my were chillin' in the background this whole time. My brothers were there too...".  Other than this it's a really endearing read.

As of writing this book Burton was only twenty-seven, and though he acknowledges that sometimes he isn't happy now, to read the memoirs of someone who is only six years older than me and happy most of the time is incredibly inspiring. I am by no means a pessimist, I always try to look on the bright side of life but I lack and crave the sort of independence and self assurance that Burton expresses by the end of the book.

It wouldn't be right to end this review without sharing how deeply moved I was about the tales of Burton's brothers and the families struggles with mental illness. I suppose you could say I'm fortunate as no one close to me has been diagnosed with Aspergers, unfortunately that means I don't know very much about the syndrome. Burton's simplified views on Aspergers being like if you were the sober kid at a party of drunk people really spoke to me. I've been that person before and being the designated driver while everyone else is having trouble standing is extremely uncomfortable and even scary at times, people are much more unpredictable when they are under the influence. Burton Acknowledges that there is much more too it than that, but as this isn't a book about Aspergers, I like that he just gave us enough information to empathise without lecturing the reader.

I would recommend this book to anyone who doesn't mind the harsh realities of life amongst the good, if you're looking for a book to help you be happy then David Burton's memoirs will put your life into perspective. I feel happier for having read this book, I'm sure you will too.

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