Book Review – HOW HAPPY TO BE by Katrina Onstad

How Happy To Be by Kristina OnstadHow Happy To Be Synopsis :

How Happy to Be captures the life of a disillusioned entertainment journalist as she heads into a downward spiral of ritual substance abuse and empty punditry. Along this path of self-destruction, her past on a West Coast commune, both comic and poignant, keeps intruding. It isn’t until her indiscretions catch up with her that she realizes she must face that past if she is to have any chance of finding where her happiness lies.

Onstad’s ability to blend satire with a moving story of coming to terms with life’s deepest wounds makes How Happy to Be a wholly satisfying and striking novel.

(McClelland & Stewart)

One of our Top 10 International Reads in 2016


Described as ‘a thinking woman’s answer to chick lit’, something about Katrina Onstad’s writing style in How Happy To Be really clicked with me. Sharp and wise in a wholly understated manner, finding both humour and heart in the detritus of the everyday.

Onstad has crafted characters that are endearing because of their flaws, not inspite of them. Although taken to comical extremes at times, she has poignantly captured that reflective (jaded?) phase most 30-somethings experience — that collision between expectation and reality, when ones focus turns to enjoyment of the present rather than an idealised future.

The ‘pop culture noise’ that surrounds lead character Maxime is only heightened by the influx of publicists, actors, directors and critics to her hometown for the Toronto International Film Festival. In the mid-2000’s what would a sassy, self-destructive entertainment reporter have asked actors like Nicole Kidman and Ethan Hawke? This setting provides ample fodder for darkly comedic moments and acerbic observations of human behaviour, and one of several catalysts for Maxime to reassess her priorities.

There’s an art happening happening and all I feel like doing is going home and looking up ethics in the dictionary, but somehow I’m part of it and this bumpy bus ride is hurting my bones. Blow Lounge isn’t a place, but a “concept”, according to the flyers we’re grasping, and out in this “enviro-interface” we will be “perturbed, moved, perhaps even disgusted” by six new works by six new artists known as ACCLIMITIZE, one of whom is the Ex. I did not want come.

Canadian author Katrina Onstad’s novels seem a little hard to come by outside of her home country but well worth the effort to track down.

Katrina Onstad’s How Happy To Be is an intelligent and infectiously amusing grown-up coming-of-age novel — highly recommended.

BOOK RATING: The Story 4 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5

How Happy To Be by Kristina Onstad
Available from:
Amazon | Abebooks | Betterworld Books

Genre: Literature, Humour, Drama, Romance, ChickLit

Author Information: Katrina Onstad’s second novel, Everybody Has Everything, has been published in several countries and was nominated for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Toronto Book Award. Her first novel, How Happy to Be, was a NOW Magazine Best Book of 2006.

Katrina’s non-fiction writing on culture high and low has appeared in publications including The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian,Toronto Life and Elle. Katrina has been a columnist at The Globe and Mail, a thumbs-upping co-host of the national movie review show Reel to Real, and a network executive in Drama at CBC TV.

Born and raised in Vancouver, B.C., Katrina has an English degree from McGill and a Master’s from University of Toronto. She lives in Toronto with her family. Check out her official website.

Other reviews of How Happy To Be :  Pickle Me This ; Goodreads