Memories are not made for eternity, they are fluid and manipulable. Sometimes their existence is even so hard to bear that the brain tricks itself and finds ways to forget. But what does it mean for the identity of the forgotten when it becomes a business model to erase those experiences that are uncomfortable or even unfit for life? Adam Silvera plays through exactly this in his novel "More Happy Than Not".

For his protagonist Aaron Soto, there is every reason to leave the past behind, because the sixteen-year-old is gay and lives in a place that does not tolerate this – in the Leonardo apartment block in the Bronx, the northernmost borough of New York, where everything outside the hetero norm is mercilessly excluded. "No Homo", one assures oneself among the young people even in innocuous situations in order to defuse the slightest suspicion in advance. If one of the guys goes over the top and fails to roar this magic formula, there is a threat of beatings.

Life doesn't mean well with Aaron either. There is no money for expensive comic books or his own room, so he has to live in the living room with his older brother Eric. The mother – also called Mom in the German translation – works shifts in two jobs, and yet much falls by the wayside. And the fact that the father recently took his own life hangs over the block like a dark cloud.

The subtleties are sometimes lost

Adam Silvera is creating the Leteo Institute for memories that cannot be lived with. In a surgical procedure, the memory is adjusted "in the blueprint" painlessly. The novel does not provide much more explanations, the hint to the sci-fi classic "Matrix" must suffice. Against his mother's wishes, Aaron seizes the opportunity. "I don't want to be me anymore" is his motto fortunately. And already he becomes the guinea pig of a new form of conversion therapy.

The topic is explosive. In Germany, conversion therapies on minors have only been banned since 2020, in the USA there is still no nationwide regulation, and other seemingly queer-friendly states such as the United Kingdom hesitated to draft laws. In his novel, originally published in 2015, Silvera, who himself is openly gay, tries to come to terms with the social significance of the problem.

"Would you have the procedure carried out even if it wasn't an issue for your fellow human beings that you were gay?", the "blueprint architect" Evelyn Aaron clumsily asks the most important question of the novel and is just as quickly ironed out by him: "It's not about what I want. I have to do it." Instead of believable character drawing, Silvera's debut is dominated by a rapidly superficial plot development that steers all too forcefully towards the intended end without emerging organically from the events. The conviction not to let life "set to zero" becomes far too striking the hope in Leteo as a "place of second chances". The novel does not know any subtleties in between.

Yet it is precisely the narrative from the perspective of the protagonist that offers space for the development of inner conflict. Instead, Silvera describes, instead of showing, analyzes instead of mediating. As lifelike as his character language is, so artificial is the thought game he designs around Aaron. When the protagonist, at the height of his despair, formulates that it is "long since bedtime, but an agonizingly real nightmare keeps me awake – myself", this is almost unbearably kitsched.

The novel enjoys great popularity among young readers, especially on social media, and was voted one of the most important books for young people by "TIME Magazine". But as a work that focuses on identification with the characters affected by homophobia and racism instead of literary content, it is a missed opportunity with regard to the possibilities of fiction.

Adam Silvera: "More Happy Than Not". Novel. Translated from the English by Lisa Kögeböhn. Arctis Verlag, Zürich 2022. 398 pp., geb., 18,– €. From 14 years