The Happiness Quest by Richard Yaxley
Scholastic, 2018. ISBN 9781742991993
(Age: Adolescent - Adult) Recommended. This story is about emotions, about how we live our lives in the modern world. Richard Yaxley has composed a story about the angst of human life - that feeling of confusion which sometimes descends, without warning, on certain people whose lives, thereafter, are radically changed. We are told this tale so gently, with the character, Tillie Bassett, revealing the core of her sadness, her feeling of not fitting in, of not being who she was before, of being so different that she can no longer cope with school, family, friends, or indeed with life. While this story is disturbing, because we all witness such sadness, the depression that descends on people, young, middle-aged or old, has at its core, the capacity to thrust the sufferer into a world of their own, a world into which others cannot either see or enter, that has walls unseen but strong enough to keep the sufferer captive.
Beautifully told, with compassion, respect and understanding of the perplexing state of despair, this story captivates, intrigues and essentially endows us with the calm spirit of understanding that life is complex, and that if we can both offer and receive love we may thereby be content. Yaxley writes with compassion, enabling us to be elevated into a world where it is just not ourselves that exist but the individual worlds, often misunderstood, of others. He endows this narrative with a true sense of the worthwhile nature of human life when one is surrounded by those, be it family or friends, workmates or schoolmates, who will work with us to bring back a sense of equanimity once more, or at least stand by us throughout the terrors, the blackness, the coldness, or the enigmatic nature of being so puzzled by what is occurring, and feeling so alone in one's suffering.
While this narrative is told from the perspective of a confused and anxious adolescent girl, Yaxley draws us deeply into the sense of being human, the fears, joys and enigmatic nature of relationships, leaving us with a great sense of possibility - that we can be social, we can give and receive love and joy, and that we can seek and often find that sense that all is well and that there is hope.
In its title, the novel suggests a much deeper quest in the harsh times of the modern world. As Tillie realizes the healing power of love and family, so we are drawn into her joy and wonderment at the world with the birth of a new baby in the family. As we witness the lifting of the darkness in the sudden resurgence of love felt by all, so we are captivated by the deeply lyrical conclusion to this novel. As the jacarandas fall and the ground is covered with the purple flowers, we understand how the family is drawn together and life seems to blossom with meaning.
This story would appeal to an audience of all ages because of its consideration of the confusion, despair and isolation experienced by those suffering from depression. The plot is certainly plausible and the narrative captivates the audience through its authenticity and respect for the young woman suffering from a great and inexplicable sadness.