“I can’t tell you how to be happy. Sometimes, I still struggle. I still have have periods where I suffer from anxiety and depression. But I’m also happy a lot of the time.”
– David Burton, How to be Happy
A funny, sad and serious memoir, How to Be Happyis David Burton’s story of his turbulent life at high school and beyond. Feeling out of place and convinced that he is not normal, David has a rocky start. He longs to have a girlfriend, but his first ‘date’ is a disaster. There’s the catastrophe of the school swimming carnival—David is not sporty—and friendships that take devastating turns. Then he finds some solace in drama classes with the creation of ‘Crazy Dave’, and he builds a life where everything is fine. But everything is not fine.
And, at the centre of it all, trying desperately to work it all out, is the real David.
When you open a book and it begins with “I’ve lied to you already. I don’t know how to be happy. Yeah, sorry. Awkward,” you know you’re in for a good time. When Text Publishing contacted me asking for a review of one of their non-fiction young adult novels, I jumped at the opportunity. How to be Happy by David Burton – winner of the 2014 Text Prize – is a young adult memoir published in an area that is greatly lacking; there aren’t many non-fiction titles in the young adult field however it should be a game changer. This book isn’t just for teens; it is a fabulous and heartbreaking look at one persons struggle with anxiety and depression that will resonate with many adults too. The discussion around mental health continues to grow with a huge amount of work going into breaking down the stigmas attached to mental illness. There are many auto/biographies on the subject however I haven’t read many that take on the subject in the brutally honest and hilarious way Burton does!
In a story that begins at age ten, Burton walks the reader through his years at primary school, high school and university and the events that lead to his decision to end his life. From managing his place in his family to navigating the tumultuous waters of school, Burton’s search for a happy and meaningful life doesn’t exactly go to plan. The older he gets, the more confused he becomes. Burton’s need ‘for a shag’ confuses him even more; he has no idea how to work out which team he is on. After dating and friendship troubles, Burton finds himself in the drama room. The only problem is, he is pretending to be anyone other than who he is. Exhausted, sad and incredibly anxious, it is only a matter of time until it all comes tumbling down.
I felt guilty for laughing so many times as it really isn’t a laughing matter but Burton’s attitude is brilliant. His honesty is like nothing I have read before; it will make you squirm, it will make you laugh and it will definitely make you cry. We live in a world that is obsessed with the notion of happiness and the perfect life however life is hard work and Burton’s message is a powerful one; being unable to maintain happiness 100% of the time does not equate to failure. Sadness is okay and so is asking for help. Depression and anxiety and other mental health issues are a very real part of life and while some people appear to cruise through, it can be a very real struggle for others. Burton’s internal struggle was very rarely on show and while his parents recognised his pain, to the outside world he was who he wanted them to believe he was: confident, happy and at easy with the person he became.
I really feel like any words that I write won’t convey exactly how important I think this book is. How to be Happy discusses a huge range of issues: depression, friendship, sexual identity, suicide, academic pressure, disability and love. It is brave and inspiring and I hope that it falls into the right hands because I really believe that Burton’s words have the power to change lives no matter their age.
To David, bravo.
Lifeline – 13 11 14
Kids Help Line – 1800 55 1800
Beyond Blue – https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
AUTHOR: David Burton
PUBLISHER: Text Publishing
PUB DATE: 26 August 2015
Thank you to Text Publishing for sending me a reading copy in exchange for an honest review!