Book Review: How To Be Happy

Title: How To Be Happy

Author: David Burton

Genre: Memoir / YA

Pages: 288

Rating: ★★★★☆

Okay, so before you start thinking I’ve been wandering around in the self-help section at the bookstore, I’d like you to read the first two sentences of ‘How To Be Happy’;

“I’ve lied to you already.

I don’t know how to be happy.” 

So if you’re looking for a guide to happiness this is not the book for you.

It is, however, a novel that will captivate you from start to finish.

I settled down in bed one night thinking that I’d read the first couple of chapters before I went to sleep. At about 11pm, I turned off my lamp to try to get some sleep. But after tossing and turning for a while I eventually gave up on sleeping and turned my light back on.

Basically what happened is that I accidentally read this entire book in one night.

I was planning on spreading it out over a few days, but I just couldn’t stop once I had started. I was only able to get some sleep after I had read the last sentence at approximately 2am.

This novel is a lot more than a memoir of ‘love, sex and teenage confusion’. It’s a call-out to teenagers and young adults who are struggling with some of life’s biggest questions and difficulties.

There are so many things going on in this book, which helps it to feel so realistic because it’s just like being inside the mind of a teenager. Dave is struggling with depression and anxiety, as well as with his sexuality and his identity at school and at home. His parents both have depression, his younger twin brothers have Aspergers, and he gets bullied at school. In short, things are not easy for Dave.

The writing style is raw, dealing with stigmatised subjects in a way that is both compelling and heart-breaking.

Dave’s honesty in the way he writes about these topics is what makes this novel so worthwhile. Every anecdote feels authentic, and there is both humour and sadness.

I’ve seen reviews that have picked up on the fact that Dave’s actions are not always heroic throughout the story, and these reviewers felt unable to ‘connect’ with Dave because of that. For me, I felt the opposite. The mistakes he makes are what makes him human. His life choices aren’t perfect, and sometimes they lead to pretty bad outcomes. But this is a memoir about a young boy growing into a man, and we all know that the decisions made in those years are far from simple.

Not gonna lie, I cried at the end of this book. Not just a little tear that slipped silently down the side of my face either, but a big sob that kind of just exploded out of me while I was reading the last page (embarrassing, I know. Luckily everyone else in the house was asleep by this point). It’s an emotional rollercoaster, one that feels very real.

I’d definitely recommend this book for teenagers and young adults who might have questions about depression, sexuality, and identity.

Just a trigger warning though, there is quite a lot on suicide (including details about a suicide method), which could be quite confronting/triggering for some readers. In saying that, the overall message of this book is one of hope; you are not alone and you are going to make it through… and it is okay to ask for help.

I met Dave at the Newcastle Writer’s Festival during his talk session ‘Boys To Men’. One of the things that he said which stuck out to me was that he didn’t really feel like he’d truly grown up until the day that he decided to finally ask for help. Afterall, there is nothing to lose by asking for help but there’s everything to gain.

If you need help you can call:

Lifeline: 13 11 14

Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800 

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