Imagine Us Happy — Jennifer Yu

October 18, 2018


TITLE: Imagine Us Happy
AUTHOR: Jennifer Yu
RELEASES: October 23rd, 2018; Harlequin Teen
GENRE: Contemporary

Stella lives with depression, and her goals for junior year are pretty much limited to surviving her classes, staying out of her parents’ constant fights and staving off unwanted feelings enough to hang out with her friends Lin and Katie.

Until Kevin. A quiet, wry senior who understands Stella and the lows she’s going through like no one else. With him, she feels less lonely, listened to—and hopeful for the first time since ever…

But to keep that feeling, Stella lets her grades go and her friendships slide. And soon she sees just how deep Kevin’s own scars go. Now little arguments are shattering. Major fights are catastrophic. And trying to hold it all together is exhausting Stella past the breaking point. With her life spinning out of control, she’s got to figure out what she truly needs, what’s worth saving—and what to let go.


This story is heavy and deals with a lot of toxicity and abuse, so please know that going into it. I’ve heard a lot of friends say the synopsis made them think this book was about depression, and it is, but if you’re someone who’s triggered by abusive scenarios (especially emotional/mental abuse), please just proceed with caution and take care of yourself! ♥

Everything was always so good, is what I’m saying, until it suddenly wasn’t.


That aside, Imagine Us Happy is a fantastic portrayal of a scenario that so many people find themselves in, in relationships of all types. The unusual thing about emotional and mental abuse is that so many of us have no idea how to recognize it’s happening to us. We’re shown from a young age what physical and sexual abuse look like (though those lines can be hard for victims to recognize until they’ve already been crossed, too!), but many of us have no idea how to differentiate between an “argument” or “joke” and abuse, until we’re in the thick of it (if ever).

Kevin’s got this look on his face that I can barely stand to look at. Anger makes Kevin look like an entirely different person.

That’s why I have to say that my favorite thing about Imagine Us Happy is how genuine the abuse rep here is. As someone who has been in scenarios that were almost identical to what Stella goes through, I wish so badly that I’d had this book as a teen, because maybe it could have helped me recognize what was happening to me before the damage was done. I want to put this book in the hands of every teen, just to say, “Hey, look at this! This is never what a relationship or friendship should look and feel like!”

I spend all of my time lost in his words, or his eyes, or his touch, and every time I’m pulled back into reality, I want less and less to do with it.

The most realistic thing about Stella and Kevin’s relationship isn’t even just the abuse, but what comes in the gaps between the toxic moments, too. We see things that might seem justifiable to some, like Kevin’s constant obsession over whether Stella is cheating on him or not, or the way Kevin and Stella get so wrapped up in one another that Stella literally forgets important events in her best friends’ lives, because Kevin’s gravity has pulled her in so tightly and won’t let go. This is so common in toxic relationships. What’s also common is the way Kevin convinces Stella that he’s genuinely sorry, or the decency he shows her in between fights (like his strongly valuing her consent in certain scenes). Kevin is a perfect example of what many abusers look like, because he’s not a villain 24/7—he has enough good moments that he convinces Stella to put up with the terrible ones.

Here is a fact:
Sometimes I just get… sad.

Another thing I loved here is the mental illness representation. On one hand, we see how Kevin’s mental illness can make it difficult for him to react properly to certain situations—but on the other hand, Stella’s own mental illness struggles give us a clear balance that avoids vilifying or romanticizing mental illness in any way.

I guess that’s why I’m starting at the end. I don’t want anyone to be confused about the type of love story I’m about to tell, or where it’s going, or what to expect. And I don’t want to disappoint anyone in search of a happy ending. I’ll say it from the start: this isn’t that kind of story.

Finally, there’s the storytelling style. Imagine Us Happy is told in a nonlinear fashion, starting at the end before jumping back to the beginning, and occasionally giving us glimpses of the build-up to the ending (so, if you’re reading it and wondering why the chapter numbers don’t go in perfect order, it’s not a misprint). It is such a unique and cool formatting idea, and I felt like it really got the message across so much more clearly than a standard beginning-to-end reading style.

I know that the tenderness is as temporary as the flash of anger that preceded it, but I can’t help but let myself soak in it, cling on to it like a drowning man to a rope.

I feel like there’s more I could say, but honestly, just read it. This is a fantastic book and I highly recommend it. I genuinely hope to see this book promoted heavily, especially in school libraries, because I think the sometimes brutal honesty depicted here could help so many readers.

Content warnings for abuse, depression, self-harm, suicidal ideation

All quotes come from an advance copy and may not match the final release. Thank you so much to Harlequin Teen for providing me with this ARC in exchange for an honest review!




More about Destiny @ Howling Libraries

Just a horror aficionado/geek girl trying to juggle motherhood, reading, blogging, gaming, and everyday life.

      1. It is sad! It’s good, but if you’re not sure you’d be up for the tough topic, I don’t blame you for passing on it at all. ♥ And sorry for the late reply, ALL of your recent comments to me got caught in my spam filter for some reason! WTF WordPress?

          1. I have no clue! I’ve never marked one of your comments as spam and you didn’t even add a link, so it’s really weird! 🙁 It did it to this reply, too. At least it will teach me to check my spam filter more often, and hopefully it fixes itself soon!

    1. This review was perfect. I love that the book portrays emotional and mental abuse because, as you pointed out, it’s not commonly talked about, whereas other types of abuse are. As someone who has been emotionally abused for a lot of my life and starting to become comfortable talking about it, I’m both excited and apprehensive to read a book that I’m probably going to be able to relate to. It’s easier to dive into a book with such serious content after reading a review about it because at least now I know what I’m going to get myself into. I’m excited about the mental illness rep, too! I’m always hesitant to read books about mental illness because they’re either really great at raising awareness and portraying it accurately or they contribute towards the stigma – and usually it’s the latter! I’m putting this on my TBR straight away!

      1. Thank you so much, Kelly, you’re so sweet. <3 I'm so sorry to hear that you've gone through that abuse, but I am so proud of you for reaching the point where you're prepared to talk about it and heal. I've been there too, too many times, and I have to say that parts of this story definitely poked a sore spot, so take care of yourself, but it was really cathartic and I hope it helps you heal. I am ALWAYS here if you need anything at all, and even if there are things I can't fully relate to, I will always listen and be a shoulder to cry on if you need one. ♥ I love you!

    1. WOW Destiny you really sold this book to me. I love the combination of mental health and abuse. It’s a topic I relate to as well and so now I’m excited to read this. It’s not a book that was on my radar so I’m happy to have caught your take. <3

    1. I’ve been wanting to read this so badly! I definitely thought it was just depression-focused from the description, so the heads-up is much appreciated. I’m definitely still going to read it, but am glad I know now what to expect.

      1. Yeah, I didn’t hear many people talk about that aspect of it before it came out! I felt like I had to say something since I honestly feel like the depression is such a less prominent facet to the story than the toxic relationship is. It’s such a good book, though! I hope you enjoy it!

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