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Happiness Falls


Happiness Falls

Angie Kim's first novel, MIRACLE CREEK, was quite a sensation. It received an Edgar Award, among other accolades, and was included on multiple best-of-the-year lists. Anticipation has been high for Kim's second book, and readers who loved how she blended courtroom drama with a family saga will be pleased to discover that she has only grown stronger with her sophomore outing.

Like MIRACLE CREEK, HAPPINESS FALLS is, on the surface of things, a missing-persons mystery. Set during the early months of COVID, in June 2020, the novel focuses on a suburban family who, like many of us back then, have been spending far more time with one another than they ever would have imagined (or, in some cases, hoped for). Adam Parson is white and a recent stay-at-home dad. His wife, Hannah Park, is a Korean immigrant with a PhD in applied linguistics. Their three children are 20-year-old twins John and Mia --- both unexpectedly home from college --- and 14-year-old Eugene.

"Angie Kim's second effort is smart, perceptive, and rich with ideas and information --- the kind of novel that people won't be able to stop thinking and talking about."

Adam has shifted his career trajectory so that he can be his younger son's primary caregiver. Eugene has a rare genetic condition called mosaic Angelman syndrome, combined with autism. He doesn't have the ability to speak and struggles with motor control, among other issues. But he is a pleasant and upbeat kid, exhibiting the nearly constant smiling that characterizes Angelman syndrome.

That's why it's especially alarming when Eugene comes home alone from the morning hike he takes each day with his dad --- running, muddy, bloodied, and lashing out at Mia when she tries to stop and talk to him. Mia will repeatedly second-guess her own actions and inaction in the hours that follow, especially once the family realizes that the normally conscientious and hyper-vigilant Adam has not returned.

Theories about what happened to Adam abound, and Eugene, the only eyewitness to what went down, isn't talking. Mia only grows more confused and suspicious when police recover her father's backpack and the cryptic notes that appear to indicate that he has undertaken a scientific study of happiness, of all things. Evidence seems to point to Adam having an affair and fleeing with his lover, but Mia can't believe that her dad would have put Eugene at such risk. But she wonders: Could this be the culmination of his research, the final grand (but emotionally cruel) experiment about relative happiness?

HAPPINESS FALLS builds on this initial suspense, offering plenty of red herrings and genuine clues about what really happened to Adam. All of this is narrated by Mia, who uses her analytical brain to parse and dissect them, often adding supplemental information via the numerous footnotes that pepper the text. Along the way, readers will learn about experimental therapies that allow people like Eugene to communicate in innovative ways. They'll also learn about how the juvenile justice system fails kids with disabilities, how happiness can (maybe) be quantified, and even a little bit about music theory.

In short, HAPPINESS FALLS is a suspenseful, beautiful and hopeful novel, even though it's also a sad one. There's no shortage of fruitful book club discussion topics here, most notably the assumptions that people make about the intelligence of those who are attempting to communicate in a second language or those who, like Eugene, are unable to use spoken language at all. Angie Kim's second effort is smart, perceptive, and rich with ideas and information --- the kind of novel that people won't be able to stop thinking and talking about.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on September 8, 2023

Happiness Falls
by Angie Kim

  • Publication Date: May 7, 2024
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Hogarth
  • ISBN-10: 0593448227
  • ISBN-13: 9780593448229