I learned a lot from Claire Kann’s new novel IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY. The protagonist, Winnie, is an 18-year-old living “her best fat-girl life” during the summer before college. In addition to being body positive, Winnie is in a longterm platonic dating relationship with Kara, her ungirlfriend. However, she’s also attracted to Dallas, the popular and handsome boy who seems perfect in all ways. Add all that to drama with her grandmother, balancing attention for her brother and her cousin, and trying to figure out what SHE really wants — and you’ve got a great summer read appropriate for teens (minor cursing and kissing) of all ages. It’s also a great book for parents who are struggling to support their own children’s assertions about their love lives in all their many shades.
Winnie is an irresistibly likable protagonist, and her patient and thoughtful approach to the summer’s events is impressive. She says out loud most of what she’s thinking, even when it promises an uncomfortable outcome. And she comes across as confident, kind, and open-minded even as she admits she is unsure, confused, and feeling grumpy. Her kindness tempers situations in which the truth hurts, and her confidence belies her fear of public speaking and her rocky relationship with her grandmother. When Winnie is suddenly chosen to be Summer Queen for the area, her plans of working and hanging out change dramatically.
The supporting characters are a wonderful array of personalities. Winnie’s brother, Winston, is a loyal and supportive delight, and Sam, their cousin, is a ray of sunshine…when she isn’t being annoyingly perfect. Kara, Winnie’s longtime ungirlfriend is loyal, caring, and fearfully jealous. And Dallas, Winnie’s Summer King comes across as a little too dreamy in both looks and deeds, as summer crushes often seem to teenagers. All the characters circle around Winnie like planets orbiting the sun, and her magnetism remains consistent and strong throughout the novel.
IF IT MAKES YOU HAPPY is a body positive, matter-of-fact novel that centers issues of race and queer culture even as it weaves a tale of typical summertime teenage drama and family conflicts. Despite the main character being 18, the story is appropriate for younger teens. Strongly recommended.