Reviews /

Dead Happy

Authored by Josh Silver
Published by Oneworld Publications

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Josh Silver’s debut YA dystopia HappyHead has been one of my students’ favourite books of the last year – an original and unputdownable satire on the wellness industry and its efforts to fix ‘the epidemic of unhappiness’ among teenagers at all costs. Fans of HappyHead will not be disappointed with Dead Happy, the second and concluding instalment in this series, in which things take an even darker and more twisted turn for Seb and his fellow participants in the HappyHead mandatory wellbeing retreat.

At the end of HappyHead, Seb and his more openly rebellious love interest, Finn, had made some deeply sinister discoveries about the true purpose behind the HappyHead project and its evil genius mastermind, Professor Gloria Manning. At the start of Dead Happy, Seb finds himself as one of the elite ‘Ten‘ taken to the remote island of Elmhallow where they need to complete another series of bizarre challenges, this time in pairs to prove their true love for each other. Seb is paired up with his former teammate, Eleanor (for whom he most definitely not feel true love) but must continue pretending to play along while he works out what is really afoot on the island.

This book works so well on so many levels. The plot is fast-paced and compelling, and the challenges (often perverted versions of the sorts of tasks one would find on more extreme reality TV programmes) add further structure to the story. Seb, Finn and Eleanor all have great character arcs which readers will find satisfying, and Seb’s voice feels fresh and authentic – often scathing and acerbic, sometimes raw and vulnerable.

The novel grapples honestly with big, topical issues, particularly teenage mental health. At the same time as comprehensively showing how not to deal with poor mental health, Silver does point to another way by showing how self-acceptance and strong relationships can equip people to cope with most challenges. And, as I noted in my review of HappyHead, this is a welcome example of a same-sex relationship being placed at the centre of a work of mainstream genre fiction. Although Seb and Finn’s relationship is complex, it is unquestionably presented in a positive light.

As the title of Chapter 1 (“HOTMUTHAFKER14”) makes clear, this is definitely pitched at an older YA audience – as with HappyHead, there is very frequent swearing but also exploration of a range of more adult topics. This is perhaps even more disturbing than HappyHead, particularly in its presentation of how easily teenagers can be manipulated into carrying out acts of cruelty and violence. So I would recommend this book for mature Year 9 pupils and above, with whom I know it will prove another extremely popular read!