Somehow I’ve become a liar. A coward. Here’s how it happened.
When Genevieve Grace wakes up from a coma, she can’t remember the car crash that injured her and killed her boyfriend Dallas, a YouTube star who had just released his first album. Genevieve knows she was there, and that there was another driver, a man named Brad Freeman, who everyone assumes is guilty. But as she slowly pieces together the night of the accident, Genevieve is hit with a sickening sense of dread—that maybe she had something to do with what happened.
As the internet rages against Brad Freeman, condemning him in a brutal trial by social media, Genevieve escapes to her father’s house, where she can hide from reporters and spend the summer volunteering in beautiful Zion National Park. But she quickly realizes that she can’t run away from the accident, or the terrible aftermath of it all.
Incredibly thought-provoking and beautifully told, Paula Stokes’s story will compel readers to examine the consequences of making mistakes in a world where the internet is always watching…and judging.
Description taken from Goodreads.
If the record holds true, I’ve read nine stories from Paula that were written under her own name and, more or less, I ended up really enjoying each one of them. This is How it Happened was no exception. I thought the story was entertaining and well put-together. However, it was also the first time that I read a story by Paula and felt like it wasn’t truly her voice. It was her writing, but slightly skewed. This is how it happened:
The beginning of This is How It Happened was great. It kicked off from the beginning. Like any other story by Paula, it took careful measure to record the details of the scene, not just the going in and then automatically going out of the hospital. The online tension was believable, not contrived, and well built-up.
But then it started droning.
It was one of the first times that I felt like a story truly was just a monologue of a character’s angst, and it just continued throughout the story. I understand that it was trying to convey Genevieve’s grief and struggle. I sympathize with that, but in a story form, it really wasn’t what I was expecting or looking for.
That’s certainly not to say that the entire book is just a downer. It’s far from that. It’s about Genevieve learning how to come back from the accident in not just a physical but also an emotional way. It’s about social pressure and perseverance and justice. It’s about bullying. It’s about falling in love. This is How it Happened is much more than Dallas’ accident and Genevieve’s guilt, but what really got me about the writing was that I couldn’t shake the feeling that Genevieve was faking it. Yes, for the first time ever so far, Paula’s characters felt like roles in stories instead of organic people.
I guess the writing set the tone for the novel in that everything was just a little bit too much. Like I mentioned before: Paula’s writing, but skewed just enough to tip it off-balance. The supporting friend, the great boyfriend, the cool parents, the not-so-great-at-times main character. In the end, everyone understands and everything is fine. The world is good. Maybe it’s just me catching onto the patterns, but I don’t think it’s the patterns that bother me. In fact, I like the patterns at times. I like supporting books with healthy relationships. But in this case, the big differentiator was that it felt fake to me. The best friend had little to no substance. None of them did, really, outside of their archetype. That‘s what bothered me, and I felt like Paula’s awesome characters were getting reduced to cardboard cut-outs and the dialogue was just… oh boy, the dialogue isn’t worth mentioning. Even the romance felt like it had been fished out of bits and pieces of her other novels.
Going back to themes, Paula did do a great job conveying her messages and ideas. It did feel more preachy than other times, but not super noticeably so. It wasn’t anything that bothered me. Something that did strike me though was the plot. For a book with almost 400 pages, not a lot happens. In fact, I’m struggling to remember what exactly took up all that space. There’s tweets, there’s news articles, some texts. The first half is dominated by Genevieve’s guilt and built-up of the accident, and the second half has to do with what she does about it + a somewhat forced romance. But all I remember is the main takeaway ideas and Genevieve’s struggle.
In that sense, I think this has to be my least favorite novel from Paula so far. I didn’t like aspects of Ferocious and New Music either, but Ferocious had insight and New Music had heart. Unfortunately, This is How it Happened didn’t have either. That’s certainly not to say that the book isn’t well-written or enjoyable. It’s both. But it doesn’t entirely live up to Paula’s enormous talent, hard work, and thorough stories. I’ll be looking forward to her other works instead. Would much rather recommend her other novels. 2 stars.