Imagine Us Happy

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 23 Nov 2018

Member Reviews

I received this arc from Netgalley for an honest review. I'm happy that there continue to be more novels about mental illness for teens as it is much needed in that genre. That being said there are a lot of triggers in this book that may also harm so readers. All in all an okay read, but something I will definitely purchase for my teen collection.
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Jennifer Yu used her incredible ability to craft a work that I was easily able to connect to. This heart wrenching story was excellently written and allows the reader to fully immerse themselves in the world of Stella. There should be some trigger warnings but oh my goodness was it excellent.
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Thank you Netgalley/Publisher for an early copy

A well-written YA contemporary novel that deals with important topics  I will be reading more from this author in the future. I recommend this to fans of YA Contemporary.
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*I read and reviewed an ARC of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own.* 

This book took me a fair amount of time to get into because I'm one who is always looking for a Happily Ever After and this book tells us from page one, that the romance isn't going to be happy. It has been so long since I've read a book with the romance not working out that it took me a long time to remember that love doesn't determine if something is good or bad. Much like when the therapist in this book mentions how our happiness shouldn't rely upon someone else and mutual love. I had to step back and remember that sometimes personal growth and understanding can be better than being in love in a unhealthy relationship. Once I did, this book was much more enjoyable.

Not that it was easy to read-- there are some heavy topics brought up, such as depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and of course the feelings when in an unhealthy relationship. Really though, I think it is all handled beautifully. I was very happy that characters were supportive of Stella and not her relationship and kept trying to help her and of course how everything happened. It all feels so real. Truly, this book feels like it could be a diary of someone's life and I think that is why the book hits that much harder. 

An interesting thing I didn't know until I started is that this book isn't always told in chronological order. The chapters are mixed around. At first it took me a bit to get into, but then I really saw why and enjoyed it. It kept some things in suspense and helped spread out all the rough patches. It felt like someone going through their memory of Junior year and the way it is written helps the reader fully understand how a person can stay in love and a relationship when it seems so negative. 

I think the only thing that really kept me from totally loving this book is that I disliked Kevin. I never thought he was a great guy and felt more like a "nice guy" to me. He is so pretentious and he felt more like a college student than a high school one. I also wasn't sure why Stella and Kevin like each other so much... perhaps we didn't get to see those scenes? 

So, do I recommend this one? Yes. This isn't light and fluffy, but if you're looking for something real and emotional but still have some happiness at the end, you should check it out. I'll be reading more by Jennifer Yu in the future.
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{trigger warnings: depression, mental illness, cutting} Stella, who is navigating her own life with depression, is determined to survive her junior year, tune out her parents’ arguments and hang out with her two best friends. But everything changes when she meets Kevin, who understands her in a way that no one else has. Their relationship quickly becomes all-consuming, and Stella soon finds herself spinning out of control. Now, I read the entirety of Imagine Us Happy while I was on a road trip, and that was an interesting experience because it’s a very weighty read. It wasn’t easy to read about what Stella is going through, her thoughts, her feelings and her experiences, but it felt raw and authentic and I think that was supposed to be the point. I also appreciated the narrative choice of going back and forth between the present and the past, because it built up the tension and kept me reading. While it wasn’t easy to read and while I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as enjoyable, I thought Imagine Us Happy was a solid read.
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Imagine Us Happy is a change from the usual YA novel that contains a cute, happy ending. The main character, Stella warns the reader of this from the very beginning. This warning had me hooked. Not that I don’t enjoy a feel-good YA novel every once in awhile, I am far more drawn to something more realistic. The focus on mental illness was so-so on the realism side and the nonlinear timeline was rough, but all in all this was a good read and I am so thankful for the deviation from the typical YA novel.
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I did not love this. I started reading as I was hoping for something a bit less "neatly tied" than typical YA genre, and also because I think it's important to be inclusive of mental illness in the content that is presented to our youth. This minimized the issue of mental illness, in my opinion, by putting too much stake in the role of a relationship in reconciling it. Come on, YA writers - do better.
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After Stella returns from an experimental wilderness summer camp for teens with mental health issues, she just want to get through junior year the best she can. Her friends Lin and Katie are ready to help her. That is until she meets Kevin who turn Stella's world upside down. Unfortunately, Kevin has his own demons which lead to a tumultuous six months. During this time she loses track of herself as well as her friends. I enjoyed the way the book starts out with the "last" chapter. Then starts to the beginning so the reader can see the signs of how Stella gets to the point of where she is. Although it would be good for any girl to read, probably best for grades 8 and up due to language, sexual content, underage drinking & drug use.
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There are some stories where you know things aren’t going to end well and watching the inevitable train wreck is just painful. For me, IMAGINE US HAPPY was one of those books. Our main character, Stella, says from the beginning that there won’t be a happy ending between her and her boyfriend Kevin. Despite this warning, watching things between them go so badly was uncomfortable for me. There are so many red flags in their relation that reading this book felt a bit like a horror movie. 

In a way, IMAGINE US HAPPY is a nice change from the usual YA contemporary filled with meet cutes and happy endings. The lessons it teaches are important, particularly in a world where we’re repeatedly told that meeting the right person will “fix” us. My favorite element of the story was Stella’s friendship with Lin and Katie. Their relationship felt so relatable and the distance that grows between them reminded me of instances in high school when I lost friends due to their relationships. Getting Stella’s perspective in that situation made me feel a little more understanding of those friends and how sometimes we all need help finding our way back to the friendships we still value. 

Fans of contemporary who are looking for something different should give IMAGINE US HAPPY a try. My threshold for being uncomfortable is too low to make this an enjoyable reading experience but the story IMAGINE US HAPPY tells is important and well done.
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Rating: I barely remember reading this book, and I just finished it last week.

Imagine Us Happy promises to add to the ever=growing list of books about mental illness, but it's mostly conflating mental illness with teen angst. For the most part, the depression explored here is that of the over-medicated masses-- not that that's necessarily a bad thing, or that it shouldn't be explored. Rather than Stella's life spinning out of control, a more accurate description would be that it's seemingly collapsing in on itself. Surrounded by self-centered, toxic people and their even-more-toxic relationships, and either not self aware enough or else not motivated enough to seek an elevated perspective, Stella is stewing in a cesspool. She clings to Kevin, hoping he'll prove to be her life raft, or else a savior who will pull her out, but he turns out to drag her even further under. 
I think the best thing about this book is that a lot of young women-- and those who need it the most-- will read themselves into it, and hopefully explore different parts of themselves, perhaps examining certain relationships or nuances in a different light. We've seen this story plenty of times before, and Yu isn't really adding anything here, but I think work like this, which offers a reader the possibility of relating or feeling less lonely because someone else has experienced the same thing and come out the other side of it relatively unscathed, is important.
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I fear that this became a victim of my own expectations.  I was very excited to read a YA book that dealt with mental health issues.  This took me a long time to finish because of two reasons.  One: PDF is really hard to read on an ereader, I wish publishers would stop sending them.  Two: the story jumps around a lot.  I hate having to remember the chapter number to know where in the timeline I am.  
There were parts where I questioned the author’s choice of words.  Did she speak from experience or from research?  I wanted a novel that was a coming of age story of a teen with mental illness but instead got a story of two teens with mental illness that are in a toxic relationship.  I wish the author hadn’t given the MC a mental illness and just made her a normal girl dealing with a toxic relationship.
2.5 stars
ARC provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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This was a decent story. I enjoy the focus on mental health, but feel that it perpetuates the myth that mental illness can be healed or cured by finding the right person. I’m sorry, it’s a great theory, but it just doesn’t work that way.
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On the surface, this book has everything to be totally captivating - deeply flawed character, an ill-fated romance, quirky best friends... But then in reality, we bounced around from past to present, the stories kept alluding to how toxic their relationship turns, but i read it all and at the end couldn't figure out what was SO bad. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't a healthy relationship, but I've read others that make me really understand what went wrong.
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Stella was a very familiar character but not memorable. I think the toxic relationships and mental health issues was handled appropriately but again, it was a very familiar story line seen in dozens of other books and Yu didn't  stand out to me.
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The story line bounced back in forth which kind of got on my nerves. It was raw and real subject that is down played a lot but was really brought to light in this book and gives the readers a real insight to the abuse.
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The format of Imagine Us Happy was very engaging and added to the book's emotional appeal. At times it felt rushed, but overall I felt the book was a fresh take on an important subject.
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Image Us Happy
By Jennifer Yu
Genre: young adult, realistic fiction
Content Warnings: depression, anxiety, self-harm, parents fighting, toxic romantic relationship
Description: “Stella lives with depression, and her goals for junior year are pretty much limited to surviving her classes, staying out of her parents’ constant fights and staving off unwanted feelings enough to hang out with her friends Lin and Katie.

Until Kevin. A quiet, wry senior who understands Stella and the lows she’s going through like no one else. With him, she feels less lonely, listened to—and hopeful for the first time since ever…

But to keep that feeling, Stella lets her grades go and her friendships slide. And soon she sees just how deep Kevin’s own scars go. Now little arguments are shattering. Major fights are catastrophic. And trying to hold it all together is exhausting Stella past the breaking point. With her life spinning out of control, she’s got to figure out what she truly needs, what’s worth saving—and what to let go.”

First off, let me just say while I loved Imagine Us Happy, I cannot speak for its accuracy on toxic relationships. The characters were so well-rounded. Even side characters had backgrounds and stories that mattered. I loved the sensitivity that each character was handled. For instance, Stella’s best friend Katie who is a party girl is given thoughts and a personality that impacts the story in ways more than just her encouraging her friends to have sex. She is actually a fleshed-out being. Stella’s abusive boyfriend is handled with a similar sensitivity but in a way that does not defend his actions. 

The structure of the story was unique and while it took some time to get used to, I found the structure appealing. The chapters are shuffled around a bit, positioning a few later chapters between earlier ones. Additionally, reflections from Stella are interweaved within the story, assisting readers in figuring out the exact timeline of the story. While the mixed-up chapters were confusing at times, I loved the symbolism of the disorganization. As you get deeper into the story, the chapters become more and more muddled. 

I thought the depression representation was good. Readers are able to see two different people with the disorder that exemplify the diversity within the depressive community. While both Kevin’s and Stella’s depression were very different from my experience with the mental illness, they both seemed realistic. I have to admit, I would not suggest people with depression to read this book as some of the self-harm scenes may be triggering. Overall, Imagine Us Happy was a great read and I recommend the book for its character development, structure, and depression representation. Imagine Us Happy became available October 23rd, 2018.
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Today, we’re talking mental illness…  So let’s start off with a content warning for emotionally toxic/abusive relationships and depression.   

This story really accurately depicted the spiral that mental health can often feel like! Stella suffers with depression,  and finds herself in a toxic romantic relationship without being able to tell that it is actually abuse. Our love interest suffers his own mental illness, and we see how possessive and unhealthy a relationship (that started out passionate and stary-eyed) can become!   We really experience the highs and lows that Stella feels – both with her depression and from her relationship. This story was gut-wrenching and emotional! It will make you cry and it will make you smile!  The non-linear story line, introduces us to the story from the end and works it’s way back, really enforcing the idea that Hindsight is always 20/20! I really enjoyed (maybe “enjoyed” isn’t the right word since I was an emotional wreck the entire time) this read and would highly suggest it to anyone who appreciates passionate and sensitive contemporaries!
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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 her partner.

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 a manipulative or needy 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. 
“Out of?”
“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.
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In the very beginning of this book, we are told that she doesn't "want to disappoint anyone in search of a happy ending," and she wasn't kidding. This was a toxic love story, and a subtle caveat of how quickly something seemingly beautiful can unravel.

• Pro: What stood out for me was how well Yu conveyed the depth of the characters emotions. I really felt the joy and happiness one associates with first love, and how all consuming it can be, as well as the pain and anguish Stella was experiencing as her relationship turned toxic. 

• Pro: I saw teenaged me in Stella. I was in a relationship that eerily mirrored Stella and Kevin's. I wish I had seen it depicted in a book, when I was teen, and maybe I would have recognized how damaging it was for me back then. 

• Pro: Considering that this book featured two protagonists struggling with mental illness, parents constantly fighting, and a toxic romance, Yu did a good job balancing that out with some lighter parts, some tender parts, and some happy parts. There were a few characters, who did an admirable job lightening the mood, and I appreciated the balance. 

• Pro: When Stella described her depression, I nodded, and felt like she really understood my struggle. I am always a fan of books, which show there is no shame in seeking out help for mental health issues. 

• Pro: I know this makes other people nuts, but I liked the non-linear format. The pieces were set out in a way, which allowed the story of Stella and Kevin's relationship to emerge, and I am a fan of watching the full picture slowly develop. 

• Pro: I didn't realize how much I needed Yu to explicitly state it, but I am grateful that she included an open statement, that just because Kevin and Stella were bad together does NOT mean they were bad people. Kevin wasn't a villain. Stella wasn't bad. They just didn't work together. 

Overall: A toxic love story, which took me on an emotional roller coaster ride, which was funny, sad, messy, and honest.
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