Published by Text Publishing on August 26th 2015
Genres: Young Adult, Non Fiction
Source: My copy
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*Winner, the Text Prize for Young Adult and Children's Writing, 2014*
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.
I’ve lied to you already. I don’t know how to be happy. Yeah, sorry. Awkward.
Okay, let me rephrase. I don’t know how to make you happy. But I have a pretty good idea about what would help.
As you may have heard already, I spent the last weekend at the Brisbane Writers Festival. While there, I had the pleasure of hearing a very enthusiastic Dave Burton tell a room of high school students all about his teenage years, A memoir of teenage years wouldn’t normally be my sort of book, but I had also heard Dave on the new #LoveOzYA podcast the previous week. How could I ignore such coincidence? I bought his book.
How To Be Happy is about the stories we tell ourselves about who we are and how we fit into the world around us. Sometimes those stories are louder than the common sense or positive thinking and the negatives rise, and it can be so hard to bring the positive thoughts back.
This book took me right back to my high school years, around the same time as David’s. They contained a very similar mix of anxiety over not fitting in, a few close friends who I used to geek out with in the library and or the music block and a general sense of stress in the senior years. I am really not looking forward to those days of trying to help my children through their high school years, knowing that they will most likely push me away at times.
David’s writing style is simple and direct. The story isn’t super-fast – it’s a non-fiction true story, after all. There’s a very honest and courageous feeling about it that appealed to me, though. I enjoyed hearing about his younger brothers (twins with Asperger’s) and their ways of dealing with the realities of life. I also enjoyed David’s own geeking out about my own passions of the day such as Red Dwarf, Star Wars and (later for me) Doctor Who! (Spoiler: I still geek out about that stuff with anyone who will listen.)
How To Be Happy contains a message of hope, that help is out there if you feel you can’t cope, if only you realise that it’s okay to ask for it. I hope this book helps some young people through their troubled times, and I’m glad that David was able to share his story.