Thursday, January 11, 2024

Book Review: Happiness Falls by Angie Kim

Pages: 400
Genre: Adult Fiction 
Pub. Date: August 29, 2023
Publisher: Random House
Source: Personal Copy
My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads says, "When a father goes missing, his family's desperate search leads them to question everything they know about him and one another--both a riveting page-turner and a deeply moving portrait of a family in crisis from the award-winning author of Miracle Creek. "We didn't call the police right away." Those are the first words of this extraordinary novel about a biracial Korean-American family in Virginia whose lives are upended when their beloved father and husband goes missing. Mia, the irreverent, hyperanalytical twenty-year-old daughter, has an explanation for everything--which is why she isn't initially concerned when her father and younger brother Eugene don't return from a walk in a nearby park. They must have lost their phone. Or stopped for an errand somewhere. But by the time Mia's brother runs through the front door bloody and alone, it becomes clear that the father in this tight-knit family is missing and the only witness is Eugene, who has the rare genetic condition Angelman syndrome and cannot speak. What follows is both a ticking-clock investigation into the whereabouts of a father and an emotionally rich portrait of a family whose most personal secrets just may be at the heart of his disappearance. Full of shocking twists and fascinating questions of love, language, race, and human connection, Happiness Falls is a mystery, a family drama, and a novel of profound philosophical inquiry. With all the powerful storytelling she brought to her award-winning debut Miracle Creek, Angie Kim turns the missing person story into something wholly original, creating an indelible tale of a family who must go to remarkable lengths to truly understand one another."

Mia and John are home from college due to COVID lockdowns. They are living at their parents' house in Virginia along with their autistic brother Eugene. Eugene's needs are vast as not only is he non-verbal, but he also has a rare genetic disorder. One day their father and Eugene go for a hike at a local park and only Eugene returns covered in blood and is clearly upset. Their father is nowhere to be found. They can't ask Eugene what happened, because he is unable to communicate, so it leaves them with no leads and a lot of confusion. As the police get involved and the kids try to track down their father, they realize their father is a bit of a mystery. They find clues and information that they didn't know about him, such as his notebooks filled with experiments regarding happiness, as well as information about Eugene's therapies. It appears that Eugene can communicate and understand things a bit more than they initially thought. There are many layers to this story and each new layer unravels more family drama as well as more clues to their father's disappearance. Happiness Falls by Angie Kim is a smart read perfect for readers who enjoy more cerebral stories with a lot of insights that lend itself to much discussion.

Mia and John are interesting characters in 
Happiness Falls. Much like the story they are complex, witty, acerbic, and thoughtful. Mia shares many insights regarding what it's like to grow up biracial and how that impacts her everyday life. There's a lot of commentary on language barriers, race, as well as society throughout the story, which elevates it to so much more than your usual missing persons novel. Mia slowly tries to piece together her father's disappearance, but every time she thinks she has made a breakthrough, another big question mark about her father pops up, not to mention the subplot of Eugene. His story evolves as Happiness Falls unfolds and he is capable of so much more than his family thought. I do applaud Kim for having a neurodiverse character that I think many readers will appreciate.

Kim's writing style in Happiness Falls is very unique. At first, I loved it. I thought it was fresh, sarcastic, and thought provoking as she even includes footnotes to enhance the story. After a while though, it seemed to slow down the pacing. I wanted less introspection and more action--less commentary and more dialogue. I have to admit about halfway through, I stopped reading the footnotes in entirety, because they were stream-of-consciousness at times. The excerpts from the father's notebook on happiness also got to be a little too much, like a deep dive into some sort of social experiment or philosophical discussion. Needless to say, 
Happiness Falls is a smart read, but not for every reader.

If you like your family dramas and mysteries with a lot of thought, and not too much thrills, 
Happiness Falls is a good choice, especially for a book club that likes to discuss issues. There is a lot to talk about here! So, have you read Happiness Falls? Is it in your TBR list? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.



  1. I do like the idea of the story, but I think all the additional commentary and introspection might hamper my enjoyment of it!

    1. Yeah, at first I thought it was such a unique idea, but it got to be a lot. I know some people enjoyed it though. Overall, it was a very smart book. Thanks for visiting, Angela!


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