Reasons to Be Happy

Published October 4, 2011 by Sourcebooks Jabberwocky!
My debut book for tween audiences.

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What Happens When You’re Not So Perfect?
How could so much change so fast?
Let’s see, you could be a plain Jane daughter of two gorgeous famous people; move to a new school; have no real friends; your mom could get sick; and, oh yeah, you could have the most embarrassing secret in the world. Yep, that about does it.

Hannah is an eighth grader trying her hardest to cling to what she knows and loves while her world shatters around her.  Her parents are glamorous Hollywood royalty, and sometimes she feels like the ugly duckling in a family of swans. Faced with her mother’s death and her father’s withdrawal into grief, Hannah turns to the one thing she can control: her weight.

Hannah’s self-destructive secret takes over her life, but the new Beverly Hills clique she’s befriended at school only reinforces her desire to be beautiful, and not even the quirky misfit Jasper—the only one who seems to notice or care—can help. It will take a journey unlike any other to remind Hannah of who she really is, and to begin to get that girl back.  Reasons to Be Happy is about standing up for all the things you love—including yourself.

Be sure to check out my REASONS TO BE HAPPY BLOG.

“Reasons to Be Happy:
1. Swimming with dolphins
2. Outrunning a forest fire
3. A hot air balloon ride
4. Seeing a shark fin while surfing but making back to the shore intact
5. Hiking by moonlight

I used to be brave.

What happened to the girl who wrote those things? The girl who left the house that morning all excited about her first day of eighth grade at a new school? That girl who got up way too early and flipped through her sequined purple notebook where she keeps a list of things that are good in life—things like:
20. The smell of Band-Aids
21. Cat purr vibrating through your skin
22. Hiking with Dad up on Arroyo Seco and seeing a mountain lion at dusk
23. Vampires
24. Playing with the rubbery residue after you let glue dry on your fingers

How could so much change so fast in just one day?

Scratch that. Stupid question. Besides, it wasn’t really a day. It was a summer. How could they change so fast over one summer? Let’s see, you could move to a new school, be totally humiliated, have no real friends, your mom could get cancer, and oh, yeah, you could have the most repulsive secret on the planet.

Yep, that about does it. That would explain the changes. So, the harder question is: How do I get that girl back? That girl who saw so many reasons to be happy that she started to keep a list:
6. Making lists
7. Jumping on a trampoline in the rain
8. Ghost stories
9. Painting your toenails
10. Winning a race
11. Dark chocolate melting in your mouth
12. Pad thai so spicy hot it makes your nose run

I missed that girl. She used to be bold and fun. Then she became a big chicken loser. “There goes Hannah,” Aunt Izzy used to say (okay, her name is really Isabelle but everyone calls her Izzy), “jumping in with both feet.”

Aunt Izzy is my mom’s sister. She lives in Ohio (where she and my mom grew up) in a funky purple house in this hippie town called Yellow Springs. (Aunt Izzy’s purple house is reason #28 on the list). Aunt Izzy makes documentary films. I know, I know, documentary films sound boring, but she makes good ones. Her last one won an Academy Award. My mom and dad are actors. They’ve never won Academy Awards, even though both of them have been nominated. They make their living in feature films, which is why we live all the way in Los Angeles now.

Aunt Izzy said I “jumped in with both feet” like it was a compliment, like it was good and brave. (Which reminds me, running hurdles when you hit your stride just right is #56). My mom, though, said I jump in with both feet like it’s a very, very bad thing. “You don’t have any fear,” she said with this look of exasperation. But that was before I became afraid of everything. I hesitated too long before I jumped. I waited, paralyzed, thinking of all the bad things that could happen, until the moment was gone. It was like, once I stopped risking, I lost the ability.

Like that day, my disaster of a first day at a new school. I hesitated too long. I let the wrong things gain momentum and there was no way to stop the avalanche.

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