* * * 1/2
A hip high school girl who loves music, writes songs, and is desperate for a ukelele, learns to her shock that her father did not abandon her years ago and has been trying to keep in touch. She begins to investigate him, only to discover that he has a new life with a new family, including the perfect stepdaughter, a girl who Minerva despises.
Set in Evanston, just outside of Chicago Get Happy is a delightfully quirky and heartwarming story that I think many people will enjoy. Minerva and her best friend Finn have that typical teenage banter that’s filled with dry humor and endless sarcasm – all things that I love.
It's her birthday and all Minerva wants is this ukele that she's been eyeing for ages. She doesn't get it. Instead she receives a sweater from her mother - so not an uke. She also receives an unexpected gift from her absentee father that sends her into a tailspin and she's not quite sure what to make of it. She doesn’t disclose any of this to her mother who has an “off limits” attitude about the topic of her father. That same day, Finn convinces her to try out for Get Happy with him. It’s a welcome distraction to audition for this business where they dress up as characters and sing for kids birthday parties. At the audition, Minerva and Finn meet Hayes and Cassie. These four are such a funny group together led by the business owner Joy who’s a bit of a character herself. Some of the funniest stuff stuff in the book happens during the Get Happy birthday parties and Minerva’s first experience is hysterical!
I really liked Minerva, a remarkable songwriter who pours her emotions into her words. Her curiosity about her father overshadows a lot of the book and brings out the insecurities she has felt all this time but never admitted aloud. She’s curious but she can’t bring herself to reach out to him directly. Since her mother refuses to discuss him, she operates covertly to find any information she can about him. The more she finds, the more confused she feels about him. It all comes down to a very uncomfortable scenario that forces Minerva to confront her family for the truth. It's a painfully crushing experience that had me feeling so badly for her.
One thing I can say is that not everything is resolved in the book and I’m good with that. It’s more the breakthrough that’s the important event in Get Happy. Minerva does have to survive the damage that's left when the truth finally comes out and the impact that it will have on her life. Even with the upheaval that ensues, Get Happy is enjoyable and the many mentions of different places in and around Evanston and Chicago made me smile extra, especially the description of riding the El which Amato nails perfectly!