Kill All Happies
Have you ever longed for a Disney movie with a lot of cussing, sex, drugs and alcohol? You know, sort of An American Pie but with the silliness of The Shaggy Dog – minus the magic? Look no further, Rachel Cohn’s Kill All Happies will deliver on that dream.
In the desert, about an hour’s drive from Las Vegas, there is a restaurant called Happies. Home to juicy burgers, crisp fries, delicious pies and colossal sundaes, it is the pride of Rancho Soldado and for years high school seniors held famed graduation parties there. Then came The Incident: a party where a few drunken kids got a bit out of hand and did a bit too much property damage in the city, resulting in the town council putting an end to the Happies parties. Time eventually put an end to Happies, too, and in just a few short weeks the restaurant will be razed to the ground so that a megamall can be raised in its place.
Victoria Navarro, Genesis Fletcher, and Mercedes Zavala-Kim, aka Vic, Fletch and Slick are Team Cuddle Huddle. They’re seniors at Rancho Soldado High and Vic, nicknamed General Navarro, has a plan to make their names legendary and their final school party epic. They will hold one last graduation gala at the soon to be demolished Happies. Her crush, the slightly older Jake Zavala-Kim, will provide booze via his Chug Bug, a refurbished VW bus that has been repurposed into a beer truck. His younger brother Zeke will provide the tunes via a playlist and maybe a few sets from his band, which has developed their own genre that mixes mariachi and metal. A fellow student will bring the pot. Kindly, elderly hippie restaurant owner Bev Happie will provide the eats by letting them have anything leftover in the freezers. The Cuddle Huddle will provide the décor and prove themselves the ultimate party hostesses by totally bringing the fun. If all goes according to pla,n Vic will end the night in Jake’s arms, having the best orgasms of her life.
Shocker alert, things don’t go according to plan. A senior who wasn’t invited gets wind of the event and decides to make it more inclusive by including the Happies restaurant groupies. With chapters as far flung as Minnesota and some as close as Vegas, these die-hard fans of all things Happies decide to really ramp up the party by doing what hasn’t happened in eons: open the gates to the long defunct Happies amusement park, located conveniently behind the restaurant. Before Vic can figure out how to fix everything, her nemesis Miss Ann Thrope (the school’s strictest teacher) is shooting a pellet rifle into the shenanigans – but frankly, that’s about the best thing that will happen for the rest of the night. Because in the spirit of teen entertainment of every kind, Vic’s about to get an ‘epic’ life lesson.
There are a lot of reasons I read YA novels but one of the biggest is that the best books of any kind transcend age, race, sex, culture and creed. They find our common humanity and help us see ourselves in people who are superficially different than we are but whose hearts and souls long for the same things we do. There are threads that bind all humanity – love for our families, a desire for justice, a yearning to be a part of something bigger than ourselves – and those threads connect a cellphone addicted suburban teen to a young woman in the Appalachian mountains fighting for her survival in a dystopian world. They help us all relate to Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter or Jo March because within them beat the same hearts yearning for the same things that beat and yearn within us. Unfortunately, Vic Navarro and her friends are not those kinds of heroes.
Reminiscent of Porky’s or Fast Times at Ridgemont but never quite achieving their depth, this is the story of three girlfriends and the last big high jinx of their school careers. You have your typical over-achiever-bound-for-an-Ivy-League do-gooder in Fletch and “intelligence isn’t really measured by school achievement” Vic. Slick provides the hot brothers everyone wants to be with, the impetus for our life lesson and not much else. The bright side is that Rachel Cohn is a good wordsmith whose two dimensional characters and their crazy antics will likely keep teens entertained for an afternoon or two. Her prose is very readable, the pacing of the story sufficient to keep you turning the pages, and while there is no laugh out loud humor, the tale is lighthearted enough that you read it with a grin if not a chortle. Once put down though, you will have a tough time remembering the characters or events you just read about. It’s like a cookie. Sure it’s good but you’re going to be hungry again soon.
I’ve mentioned the drugs and alcohol but just to cover every base, let’s talk about the sex a bit. While none of the characters has sex on the page, sex is alluded to in essentially every chapter. And by alluded to, I mean discussed. Whether we are talking about the number of girls Jake has done (a lot), the activities of party goers (ménage a three and/or four go on in the background), the fact that Jake tapes what he does with girls (ew!) , the names of Vic’s breasts (who does that?) or simply the numerous orgasms everyone has or hasn’t had, there is a lot of sex talk here.
I don’t think many adults would find this book interesting, and most teenage boys I know wouldn’t touch it. However, if you’re someone who doesn’t set moral limitations on your teen daughter’s reading and whose child plans to spend some time in a lounge chair perusing books this summer, Kill All Happies might just be what you are looking for. Breezy and fun but forgettable, this straddles the line between hip and raunchy rather well. Readers who prefer an ounce of thought value in their books will want to look elsewhere though.