Summary and book reviews of Happiness by Heather Harpham


The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After

by Heather Harpham

Happiness by Heather Harpham X
Happiness by Heather Harpham
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  • Published:
    Aug 2017, 320 pages

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Book Summary

A shirt-grabbing, page-turning love story that follows a one-of-a-kind family through twists of fate that require nearly unimaginable choices.

Happiness begins with a charming courtship between hopelessly attracted opposites: Heather, a world-roaming California girl, and Brian, an intellectual, homebody writer, kind and slyly funny, but loath to leave his Upper West Side studio. Their magical interlude ends, full stop, when Heather becomes pregnant - Brian is sure he loves her, only he doesn't want kids. Heather returns to California to deliver their daughter alone, buoyed by family and friends. Mere hours after Gracie's arrival, Heather's bliss is interrupted when a nurse wakes her, "Get dressed, your baby is in trouble."

This is not how Heather had imagined new motherhood – alone, heartsick, an unexpectedly solo caretaker of a baby who smelled "like sliced apples and salted pretzels" but might be perilously ill. Brian reappears as Gracie's condition grows dire; together Heather and Brian have to decide what they are willing to risk to ensure their girl sees adulthood.

The grace and humor that ripple through Harpham's writing transform the dross of heartbreak and parental fears into a clear-eyed, warm-hearted view of the world. Profoundly moving and subtly written, Happiness radiates in many directions - new, romantic love; gratitude for a beautiful, inscrutable world; deep, abiding friendship; the passion a parent has for a child; and the many unlikely ways to build a family. Ultimately it's a story about love and happiness, in their many crooked configurations.



My first child, my girl, was born just before seven on a spring night, perfect. She was compact and fully formed, a little over five pounds. She smelled like sliced apple and salted pretzels, like the innocent recent arrival from a saline world that she was.

But the midwife was worried. "She's small for gestational age," she kept saying. "Any problems or issues during pregnancy?"

I wanted to ask her if heartbreak counted. If sharing a bed with a good-hearted dog, rather than the baby's father, might do it.

"Also," the midwife said, "she looks a little jaundiced."

"That's just the Greek side," my mom cut in, "we're all yellow."

The midwife finally handed her over, a waxy, pinched little thing. Gory and unkempt. Not serenely smiling like the dolls of my youth. But a real baby, mine.

When I breathed her in, a straight, bright synaptic path lit up the center of my brain. Every neuron said to its neighbor, yes, yes, yes, yes, this is the one, yes. This...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Do you think Happiness is an apt title for this memoir? Why do you think Heather chose this particular, single word as the title?
  2. How do you face adversity? Do you hunker down, as Brian described his tactic, or do you reach out for people to huddle with, like Heather did? Or do you take another approach?
  3. "I was suddenly afraid of being bitten by a creature whose solitary home I'd invaded" (20). Think about Heather's early relationship with Brian and what this line means in that context. Do you think her use of the metaphor is intentional?
  4. What did you think about the way Brian and Heather's relationship evolved over the course of the book, and in particular during the medical ordeals they faced? Do your own ...
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BookBrowse Review


This is the best book I have read this year (Arlene M). I loved everything about it (Barbara O). I started it on a rainy night, thinking I would fall asleep quickly, and ended up reading the entire book (Diane W)! It's so good, you will want to read it twice (Sherri G). I highly recommend this memoir, it was a definite page-turner and tear jerker (Miller W). It's one I will never forget and without any reservation recommend to all my friends and family (Candace F). Happiness would make an excellent book club selection (Barbara O).   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

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Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Harpham has written a heartfelt exploration of familial bonds and the sometimes incredibly bumpy journey one must take to get to contentment.


Happiness is an incredibly moving account of survival and love that will inspire readers to hold on tight to what’s truly important.

Kirkus Reviews

A frank and often affecting memoir from a mother determined to do whatever it takes for her child.

Author Blurb Ann Hood, bestselling author of The Knitting Circle, The Red Thread, and Comfort: A Journey Through Grief
With intelligence and lyricism and compassion, Harpham gives us her story of the rocky road that sometimes leads right where you want it to.

Author Blurb Susan Cheever, bestselling author of Treetops: A Memoir, and Home before Dark
An extraordinary and bewitching book, Happiness has staked a claim among the most beautiful and moving portraits of parenthood and partnership.

Author Blurb Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney, bestselling author of The Nest
Told with abundant charm and insight, this book is a beautifully drawn portrait of one family - its comforts, disappointments and, on the very best days, moments of grace.

Reader Reviews

Kristina H. (West Orange, NJ)

A Moving Tale of Motherhood
Heather Harpham knows words well. She knows how to craft a lyrical story; funny, poignant, heartwarming. While I'm not normally the type of person to pick up a unknown author's memoir, I'm so glad I did, because this one read like a fiction. Better ...   Read More

Andrea B. (Pleasant Prairie, WI)

Life Rarely Travels in a Straight Line
Heather's life was relatively mundane at the beginning of this novel. She had steady income, was in a committed relationship with Brian, and had plans for the future. Those plans and her life were radically changed when she became pregnant. I ...   Read More

Cindy C. (Withee, WI)

Great book, even more so because it actually happened
It seems strange to say you loved a book that shares such painful memories, but I did. The book goes beyond the author's story as she was also able to share the stories of other parents who had children in the same hospital ward where her daughter ...   Read More

Linda M. (Lititz, PA)

Happiness The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After...
This book is a memoir. The author was excellent at making the reader feel what she was feeling at that particular moment. It takes the reader through her surprise pregnancy which her partner ran out on her, to the delivery of what looks like a ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Becoming a Bone Marrow Donor

In Happiness: The Crooked Road to Semi Ever After, the author's newborn has a rare blood disease and requires a bone marrow transplant to survive.

Bones have soft tissue at their core called marrow; marrow contains immature or undifferentiated cells known as stem cells. There are two main types of stem cell: one produces bone, cartilage, marrow fat and other connective tissues, to repair and maintain the skeletal system.  The other produces blood-forming cells, which produce the main constituents of blood - red blood cells, white blood cells and platelets. When blood cell production is interrupted by disease, cancers (such as leukemia) or genetic abnormalities (such as sickle cell anemia), a person ...

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