The Gifts of Happiness
Mountain Blue Publishing (2020)
Reviewed by Megan for Reader Views Kids (02/2021)
“The Gifts of Happiness” is Oliver Smuhar’s thrilling sequel to his hit novel, “The Gifts of Life.” In this follow up, readers find themselves back in Everbreen and the Town of Tents with Perry, Faith, Bailey, and the rest of the crew. Kyle, an old friend from Kelton Whide, has suddenly resurfaced after it is discovered that he has spent the last years since the attacks as a cobblestone troll-like creature. When the stones fall away to reveal the human beneath, a bigger problem is realized: without the stones to hold him together, Kyle will melt to death. In order to save their friend, the team travels to Central City to find a doctor to help him. Instead of finding just a cure for Kyle, however, the friends will encounter an assassin, death, and threats from the “Masked Ones.” Politics and the quest for power are once again putting the world, and the environment, at stake. As the waters rise, literally and figuratively, the gang will have to travel across the lands to Drewmora in order to discover the truth and save the world. But who will they lose along the way, and will the survivors be able to come back out again with any hope of finding happiness again?
“The Gifts of Happiness” is a pleasant enough read. The tone of the book has a pervading optimism and theme of love and acceptance which is soothing to the mind. The familiar characters bring readers right back into Smuhar’s creative world with little effort, and the unique details and living beings encountered within the pages keep the mind interested while the political intrigue and suspense keeps the reader on their toes enough to keep wanting to turn pages.
In particular, I enjoyed the themes of acceptance that were abundant throughout both “The Gifts of Life” and “The Gifts of Happiness.” In a world where differences seem to be magnified more negatively these days, it is nice to encounter literature, especially for young adults and teens, which emphasize the importance of judging people not by what they look like or where they come from, but who they are inside and what their character says about their values and passions. I particularly thought this was reinforced strongly in reference to the Evers, such as Bailey and Assonance. Bailey, specifically, encounters a lot of hardship because of his outward appearance and species. As a large panda bear, people are easily afraid when they first encounter him, and he finds a lot of obstacles in the form of inaccessible buildings and forms of transportation. I think that authors who manage to remind readers within their books that everyone deserves common courtesy and kindness are part of an important and select few groups of people who are truly trying to use their talents to make the world a less scary, more accepting place. This goes not only for the acceptance of others, but of ourselves as well. My favorite quote in the book, for example, was when Odd said to Bailey: “Sometimes we can’t choose who we are, we just end up being something we’ve always been.”
I do think that “The Gifts of Happiness” could have stood to go through one more round of editing. There were some grammatical and typing errors that, while minor, were frequent enough to be disruptive to the flow of the story. Additionally, there were also several instances of incorrect word usage. These moments were small, but they detracted just a little from the credibility of the book. As a writer myself, I know I have also been guilty of publishing too quickly and not having enough editing done. It’s something many authors, especially us younger folks, encounter simply because we are human. I know when I finish a project, I get so excited that I just want to get it out there. Over time, however, I am teaching myself to slow down just a notch and make sure I do the extra legwork to ensure that my final product truly is my best work. It is something that comes with experience, and after reading both “The Gifts of Life” and “The Gifts of Happiness” it is evident that Oliver Smuhar is continuing to grow as a writer, and that his work will only continue to get stronger as he continues in his writing career.
I recommend “The Gifts of Happiness” and Oliver Smuhar’s “Colours of Humanity” series to young, teenage readers in particular, who enjoy reading about unique, enjoyably dysfunctional characters and embarking on exciting journeys to new worlds.