I was a huge fan of Angie Kim's Miracle Creek so it was a no brainer for me to pick up her latest, Happiness Falls. Both books are shining examples of why Angie Kim is a master at her craft. She is able to weave science and humanity into a suspenseful plotline in such a thoughtful way. The author's note is a MUST READ. If Angie Kim ever comes to my area, I will quickly jump on the chance to attend. I would love to pick her brain about what inspires her novels and how she conducts her research. Both of her books have taught me about medical conditions I was not familiar with. And she writes these characters with such robust representation. It is like she is educating us while we read her fictionalized plot and forcing us to do some hard self-reflection on our unconscious bias when it comes to race and disability. Her writing is truly genius.
The Parson's family lives are upended when their father goes missing. Mia and her twin brother each take different angles on his disappearance, while their brother Eugene who has a rare genetic condition called Angelman syndrome was potentially with their dad when he went missing, but he cannot speak. They desperately search leads that have them questioning what actually happened to their father and if there is a chance he is still alive.
The reader is thrown into the action from the first chapter. Adam Parson goes missing and we are left wondering what happened. Was his life too much and he up and left? Did he unalive himself? Was it an accident? Or did something more happen when he was hiking with Eugene? All of these questions go through your mind as the plot unfolds. I wanted to throw this book at the wall at times because of how frustrated I was with the police and their missing person's investigation. (If you know, you know.)
Adam's backpack is found down the river from where him and Eugene were hiking, and they uncover a notebook Adam documented scientific findings regarding happiness. The entire concept of measuring happiness was so fascinating to me. In a nutshell, Adam was researching the cause and effect with happiness when measured against different stimuli. It instantly made me think of happiness when it pertains to a 50-degree day in Wisconsin. If it's 50 degrees in September, I am annoyed and feel like it's cold. But if it's 50 degrees in March after a cold and snowy winter, I am elated, and you literally see the happiness impact everyone around you. Why am I not the same level of happiness on both days? Well, because one I experienced extreme winter and it has me appreciating the warmer day more and the other, I don't have anything to compare it against. Seriously let this one sink in, because it is a big part of the book. I was fascinated!
After finishing Happiness Falls, my husband and I had a conversation about bias towards language skills. I never thought deeply about it before, but Kim is so accurate with her analysis of bias towards folks where English is not their native language or folks with disabilities and/or are nonverbal. He shared such an incredible story with me about having a conversation at a restaurant recently where a nonverbal man sat next to him and struck up a conversation with him through his sign language interpreter. My husband said how at first glance, he assumed the man had cognitive disabilities. He was in a wheelchair, seemed nonverbal and had a health aide. But after having a 30-minute conversation with him about their shared interests of hunting and fishing, he realized how wrong his bias was. He was blown away by how much they had in common and also ashamed of how his internal bias clouded his judgement. I reflected on my internal bias when it comes to language. When I hear someone speaking 'broken English,' what do I think about that person, their intelligence, their life experiences? Do I unintentionally treat them differently? When a book connects you with the real world and has you changing how you approach those around you, that one is a winner!
Both Miracle Creek and Happiness Falls made me think about medical conditions and race in a deep, self-reflective way and honestly, made me a more compassionate person. While both are fiction novels, they will truly touch your soul and make you a better person.
"Our brains are hardwired to want resolution, to want the answer. The bigger and broader the mystery, the deeper the satisfaction when it's resolved."
Other books by this author:
Miracle Creek (click the title link for review)