Thursday, October 14, 2021

Laura Hankin - Happy & You Know It

After her former band shot to superstardom without her, Claire reluctantly agrees to a gig as a playgroup musician for wealthy infants on New York's Park Avenue. Claire is surprised to discover that she is smitten with her new employers, a welcoming clique of wellness addicts with impossibly shiny hair, who whirl from juice cleanse to overpriced miracle vitamins to spin class with limitless energy.
There is perfect hostess Whitney who is on the brink of social-media stardom and just needs to find a way to keep her flawless life from falling apart. Caustically funny, recent stay-at-home mom Amara who is struggling to embrace her new identity. And old money, veteran mom Gwen who never misses an opportunity to dole out parenting advice. But as Claire grows closer to the stylish women who pay her bills, she uncovers secrets and betrayals that no amount of activated charcoal can fix. 
Filled with humor and shocking twists, Happy and You Know It is a brilliant take on motherhood – exposing it as yet another way for society to pass judgment on women – while also exploring the baffling magnetism of curated social-media lives that are designed to make us feel unworthy. But, ultimately, this dazzling novel celebrates the unlikely bonds that form, and the power that can be unlocked, when a group of very different women is thrown together when each is at her most vulnerable.

Comment: I've added this book to my TBR last year but I forgot why exactly. I finally managed to start it but it turned out to be something I wasn't too fond of.

In this story we meet Claire, a young woman who grew up in a place where a powerful church had a lot of influence and as soon as Claire was able to escape, the went to New York. She has always wanted to become a musician and when her band was about to be launched, she was put aside by the others because of something she couldn't easily explain. Now the band is famous, she is in financial trouble and has to keep her head down and accept things she felt were in her past, such as playing music for babies. The new baby playgroup she is going to work for is made out of wealthy mothers who all seem to have brilliant lives....or do they? As Claire gets more and more immersed in their lives, can she be objective and notice something might not be quite right with them?

I seem to have had some bad luck lately with some books I've been reading...the blurb issue. I know, I know, I repeat myself on and on about this but I can't help noticing. A blurb gives an idea about what book is going to be, it helps create an expectation, and then the content isn't always an easy match. I wonder how much is only someone's wrong ideas because it's not the author writing the blurb or if there's a purpose in writing them a certain way, precisely to seduce readers....

Anyway, this to say I feel mislead by this blurb because I thought this would be more along the lines of fictional drama but it turned out to be more about unappealing characters immersed in corrosive schemes. Nothing wrong with it, each book is what it is but perhaps I might have passed if I knew what this would be focusing on instead.

The setup was interesting enough: a down on her luck Claire who feels cheated by how quickly after she was let go of the band, they became a hit. I could commiserate with her and I was also intrigued by what her past being part of a big church cult-like would have meant for her growing up and how she now sees the world but this aspect was only mentioned a couple of times so that Claire could explain how and why she rebelled and so on. It turns out it wasn't such a big element in Claire's personality and past as I was led to believe.

As soon as Claire meets the mothers she starts to notice some things don't add up but she isn't interested as long as the money keeps coming. At some point she becomes friends with one of the mothers and they are the ones who sort of propel the plot into something more active and action packed. I suppose I can appreciate the method in which the big secret is developed and as a suspense novel, this could have worked out quite well too, but the resolution, although interesting on its own feels a little wasted because the main characters aren't that complex.

Claire is the protagonist but I feel she wasn't as well developed as she could by the author and I think her evolution or growing as the plot unfolds wasn't good enough. But the other mothers have plenty of air time too, for we have the POV of at least three of them throughout the novel namely Whitney's, Amara's and Gwen's. Each one is different, both in personality and inner strength and although they were all complex enough in their own merit - more than Claire, I thought - they still get held by stereotypes for the most part and their characters also feel they lacked enough development.

Something I can say is that all of them seem to be people I wouldn't like to be friends with. There is one or two things about each one that we can say are positive aspects but for the most part, it felt as if the highlight was on their negative actions/behavior and it was hard to sympathize. I suppose they can be seen as only human, with realistic descriptions and attitudes but since I wasn't rooting for any, I've finished the book with the sense I gained nothing by having read about them.

I suppose the talk about motherhood, expectations on mothers and how children are treated as objects to be revered or dealt with in a way that can be seen a certain way are worthy subjects the author mentioned here. Some scenes do seem to be good examples of how children are, for some mothers, just a means to an end, especially in the world of Instagram and social media. However, even this was out aside somehow, in detriment to the big secret and overall I feel the ideas just weren't used properly.

The big secret is found a little bit after mid of the book, so lots of time to still be annoyed at the characters' actions, at their mind process... although one or two details felt thought-worthy such as the fact children would end up in the spotlight and should a loving mother really ant to expose a child like that? Anyway, I'm certain this worked out for many readers but, to me, it wasn't as great as I imagined, all clues considered on how this could possibly go.
Grade: 5/10

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