HappyHead is an unputdownable YA dystopian thriller about teenage mental health. Seb is one of a hundred teenagers invited to attend a mandatory retreat in Scotland designed to fix the ‘epidemic of unhappiness’ among young people. Participants are required to complete a series of increasingly strange and sinister assessed tasks in teams of four, as well as taking part in guided meditations and therapy sessions, and every night they are assigned a different bedroom based on how well they have performed the previous day.
Despite his cynicism about the HappyHead project, Seb initially keeps his head down and gets on with each challenge, unlike his more openly rebellious teammate Finn. But as Seb and Finn grow closer, they start to make some disturbing discoveries about the real purpose of the retreat and whether they have any chance of escaping.
This is a pacy and gripping read which will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed series like The Hunger Games, and Josh Silver uses the tropes of this genre effectively. Many teenagers will appreciate Silver’s satire on wellness culture and the recent proliferation of wellbeing initiatives; I particularly enjoyed the passive-aggressive messages that flash up on screens, always accompanied by a smiley-face emoji. (I’m not sure I will ever look at that emoji in the same way after reading this book!) Silver has worked in mental health inpatient units, and his author’s note, he explains how this inspired him to think about how some of the prescribed treatments could be used to manipulate others through the reward of happiness. The book certainly opens up some interesting questions around happiness and wellbeing.
In addition, this is a great example of an LGBTQ+ relationship being placed at the heart of a work of mainstream genre fiction. Finn is a complex, troubled character and Seb’s relationship with him is likewise complicated, but readers will find themselves rooting for both of them.
The book contains some more adult themes as well as frequent strong language so would be most suitable for pupils in Year 9 upwards. This is the first instalment in what is bound to become a popular series, and its cliffhanger ending will leave readers desperate for more.
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