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Mostly Happy

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*Winner 2010 White Pine Award

*Shortlisted for three 2008 Saskatchewan Book Awards: Fiction, First Book, and City of Saskatoon

Caught in the tight space between love and fear, Bean gallops through her early life picking up shiny bits of beauty along the way and tucking them into a red Samsonite suitcase. This suitcase, a dominant metaphor in the novel, becomes Bean's touchstone that keeps her from spiraling into the dark worlds of her beautiful, screwed up mother and all the stray men she brings home; her sad, exhausted father; and her magnetic stepfather as he transforms from family saviour into drunken dragon.

Without remorse or bitterness Bean moves forward, seeking her friendships where she can, casting spells to protect her younger sister, and seeking solace from whatever small sanctuaries her transient life offers.

From engaging episodes as a religious-sponsored youth missionary in England and Europe, to the orchestrated pursuit of becoming an actress in Toronto, to the novel's end in Wyoming, Bean's life is as relentlessly whimsical as it is sad. And as she migrates from schoolgirl to teen to young woman, and her dreams unfold from grill cheese sandwiches to self-sufficiency, she evolves into one of fiction's most memorable characters.

275 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2008

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About the author

Pam Bustin

2 books23 followers
I was raised in a host of small towns across the prairies and live (mostly) in Chapleau Ontario.

My first novel Mostly Happy was published in February 2008 by Thistledown Press. You can find out more about the book, see some pics of the Mostly Happy book tour and giggle at some videos on the Mostly Happy Page on facebook.

My play Saddles in the Rain won the John V. Hicks award in 2002, and was published by Playwrights Canada Press in the anthology The West of all Possible Worlds in 2004. My other stage plays include barefoot and The Passage of Georgia O’Keeffe. Three of my radio dramas (Coffee in Lloyd, The White Car Project and Talking with the Dead) have aired on CBC Radio and my short fiction has appeared in The New Quarterly, Spring! and Transitions.

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5 stars
87 (37%)
4 stars
80 (34%)
3 stars
39 (17%)
2 stars
19 (8%)
1 star
4 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews
1 review
October 23, 2010
Book review-
Review by - Tiffany Wen
The novel < Mostly Happy> is absolutely telling an inspiring story. The story is about the protagonist – Bean Fallwell’s life from her conception all the way to almost thirty years after. She has been through so many sorrowful and challenging situations that we can barely imagine. But finally she decides to find the real life that she wants. She never stop find the true happiness of her life, no matter how tough life is.

Bean’s family was a mess, in her words, it was “fucked up”. The story centers around her life after her mom – Prissy, divorced with her exhausted dad and started dealing with different relationships. Prissy was not a typically responsible mother, and they moved a lot. But that was the happiest time to Bean. It was mentioned in the novel several times: “ I missed Prissy. I missed the time when it was only me and she, and she always asked me, ‘ Are you happy, kid?’. Then, Prissy married with Jack Vara. The family appeared to be nice and happy at first, but it afterwards became miserable and abusive.

Jack Vara was unpredictable and violent. He dated teenage girls but Bean and Prissy always turned a blind eye to it. They still moved a lot, but Bean never forget to bring her Samsonit suitcase. The suitcase never disappear in the story. Bean collects every bits of things that were meaningful to her and tuck them into the suitcase. Bean was always more responsible for Prissy than the other way around. Changing schools all the time and having an abusive father was not the worst thing to her, because her determination helped her to remain protection and strong for her mom and her little sister.

There were still people she loved although her life was dysfunctional. Her close friend since childhood- Goose, was the one always there for her. This solid friendship was one of the most precious thing that kept her going. GT, her grandfather, always stood out for her and she was always happy at GT’s.

The novel contained certain black materials such as bad language and abusive material, but they does not disturb the pleasures when reading it. Bean is so real and you can feel you were right beside her when you read the story. The existence of bad language is in our everyday life, you may feel uncomfortable when reading them, but that is how our world is like in reality.

After her step father broke the rule which was not to hit them in front of others. Bean finally left home and went on to seek for her own life. “ I was tired of everything. Tired of the constant stomachaches of stress wondering when Jack would go off on Prissy again. Tired as hell of her defending him when he was sleeping with a sixteen year-old girl right under her nose.” After all, Bean was just a girl. Her inside was vulnerable although all others could see were her tough sides.

Bean finally moved on and chose her own life. Bean’s determination and courage showed us that although we do not get to choose our families, our environments, we can change our life by ourselves. The author used her way to draw us into the character’s life and it is enjoyable to read. I love the story and I recommend you to read it.
Profile Image for Ric DeMeulles.
Author 3 books5 followers
September 9, 2013
You'd think a book that depicts a little girl hiding under a table while her mother is being beaten would be, well, dark, dreary and ponderous. Mostly Happy is not that type of book. It moves swiftly from scene to scene, showing what life looks like through the eyes of a hopeful, resilient little girl with a great capacity for wonder and love. I found Bean's--the little girl's--capacity for acceptance and love to be heatbreakingly beautiful. And it reminded me of how resilient children are.

Here's a book that deals with childhood trauma without all the psychobable and narcissistic self-absorption we find in many novels of this kind. And yet it talks honestly about the topic and does not gloss. It reminds us of what strength and courage, and just plain happiness, are built into the core of our being.

This is a good read. It moves swiftly through the life of a likeable protagonist and in the end reminds the reader of what a wonder it is to be a human being.

ric and bonnie deMeulles
Profile Image for Darlene.
680 reviews34 followers
October 17, 2008
Mostly Happy is Pam Bustin's first novel and in my opinion a very good one. She's a Canadian author and I do love it when a good Canadian author comes along.

This novel centers around Bean-yes Bean is her birth name-and her mom Prissy and their very dysfunctional home life. Bean never really has a chance for a normal childhood as hers is messed up from the beginning. You see, Bean's mom Prissy, has a penchant for abusive men. After Bean's father leaves and she is growing up, Prissy has different men coming in and out all the time. As a matter of a fact, Bean does more taking care of her mother then the other way around.

Finally Prissy meets and marries Jack and Bean thinks that life will be good now. Unfortunately this doesn't happen and Jack turns out to be a monster like the rest of them and Prissy remains with him in all the abuse and craziness and brings yet another child into the mess-Dee.

Bean, at a young age, gets a red Samsonite suitcase. This suitcase is a big part of the book as it carries everything that's meant something to her as she wanders through her life. They moved so many times, she went to so many different schools-she was almost like a chameleon as she seemed to fit into whatever the school needed whether it be an athlete or an actress. And no matter where they went, the suitcase went with her. I think for her it was a form of security, as long as she had it she was home even if it was another strange place.

Eventually Bean has had enough and tries to move on and start some kind of life for herself. She has always thought that it was up to her to take care of Prissy and Dee and finally she realizes that she can't-the only ones who can change are the ones involved. So she goes off to meet new people, goes to Bible school and travels around some. Still, the pull of going back home is strong and after a crazy call from Prissy, she heads back. Thankfully through her life she had Goose, this was a boy she met when she was very young and they stuck together through it all-he and his family always helped hold things together for her.

This book is by no means easy to read-the material itself is difficult-abuse. Also, if you're offended by bad language then this may not be the book for you. However, the material and language in this novel is a part of the book-this is the way of life for many like Bean and her mom-it is their reality.

I really liked this book. The author drew me into the lives of these characters so completely. She makes us live their with them-the bad and the good moments. I love when an author can make me feel such strong emotions. I found parts of the book hard to read but at the same time she changes it up with Bean's humor and you can't help but like Bean. Bean is an inspiration in many ways-she gets out, she gets help, she tries to recover from her awful past-she refuses to live the life she grew up in. I would recommend reading this book if you're able to handle the issues I've mentioned. It's really well worth reading.

Profile Image for Marilyn.
Author 2 books5 followers
Want to read
June 7, 2010
This is on my "To Read" list after winning the Ontario Library Association's White Pine Award (Grades 9 - 12) for 2010.
Profile Image for Caterina.
29 reviews
January 13, 2013
1 review
July 31, 2022
This is absolutely my favourite book ever. I was in grade 8 when this came out. My best friend was reading it out of the white pine bin in the library. I asked her to give me something to read and she gave this book to me. I dont think I have ever felt so connected to a character in my life. I had an ex partner and a good friend read it and they both called me bean for years. This is such a powerful storyh especially for a first published novel. I will read this over and over the rest of my life. I just introduced my youngest sister. I have 2 copies to share with others.
1 review
March 17, 2019
I read this in a day, I couldn't put it down. From start to finish I was completely impressed.
Profile Image for Vicky Cuddy.
54 reviews
March 20, 2017
Very good. But sad at same time. It was cool to relate to where the places were as they were close to home. At same time, reminded me of a little girl I once knew.
Definitely worth the read! First book? Wow!
1 review
March 11, 2010
Mostly Happy:
Review By: Scarlet Chen

The Novel “Mostly Happy” by Pam Bustin is a story about finding true happiness amidst the challenges and the obstacles of life. The author writes an inspiring story of hope and and redemption to show readers there still is hope and redemption.
Bean is a girl who grew up watching her mother jump in and out of bad and sometimes abusive relationships; realizes that this kind of life is not for her. So she begins to search for meaning in her own life. The complexity of Bean's thoughts and personalities draws us into the book. Very few authors are able to do that. But because of the complex mind of Bean, we see her as someone who is more real and we begin to believe that the story is actually a true story. We fit right into Bean's thoughts about her world. We see how abuse is normal and we sympathize with Bean when she feels that she has to keep her emotions in in order to protect and give happiness to her mom and her sister.
Bean places a mask onto her life but slowly, as we read her thoughts we see how vulnerable she truly is. The unmasking or unravelling of her layers is also something that everyone who reads this book will love. When Bean says that “I spend half of my time yelling at God” we finally see a new side of Bean. The side that's unhappy and the side that wants to give up. She misses life alone with her mom. When there were no men. “I made it my whole childhood. Happy Times”. Seeing Bean's weakness shows us her courage. Despite the waves coming towards her, she continues standing firm; believing something better will come.
Pam Bustin uses this novel and the character of Bean as a letter to the world and the people in it. She uses the determination and perseverance of Bean to show us that we can help ourselves. Things can ALWAYS change. But only if we want it to. “They can leave (the mess) too. You found the door (out) and they saw you go through it. They've watched you build a different life for yourself. That's all you can do.”
The best thing about this book is the ending. After all the heartache, the pain and the sorrow, “God came”. Bean was able to find the hope and the courage to go on. She was glad “someone was in charge”. After running away from her problems her whole life Bean found peace after the storm and found the will to go home and help the people the storm hurt. I think we all want a beautiful ending; this book shows us that we can.
Profile Image for Tiffany.
26 reviews
May 13, 2010
Ahh I love this book so much! One of my favorites that I read last year!

The characters are truly unique and you can’t help but like Bean, the protagonist. It's obviously well-written and composed - it won 2 Saskatchewan Book Awards. Not all of the men in Bean's life were horrible - there was GT (Grandpa) and of course, her Goose, which seemed kind of like a rip-off of Ducky from Pretty in Pink, but still awesome. This book is by no means an easy read with such difficult and dark material, plus language. Of course, we all know that this material/language/etc. happens in the everyday lives of our teens who are reading this. I try to read from the perspective of a teenager and I'm not sure that the average teen will like it, but the ones who love "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" and Ellen Hopkins' books will be all over it.

Profile Image for Steve.
123 reviews2 followers
August 28, 2012
With Mostly Happy having such a high rating I can't Help but ask myself if I've missed something in only giving it two stars.
My reply to myself continues to be, 'No!'
There wasn't much new offered in the way of insight into the issues addressed.

I suppose my biggest complaint is that I have never been a big fan of martyring
Oneself In order to rescue the un-reachable. At some point, ones own sanity has to take preference. Probably not a good reason to give only two stars.
Still, it's all it deserves!

Profile Image for Gail Kesslar.
14 reviews20 followers
March 5, 2011
I picked this book up at the 2009 Saskatchewan Book Awards, after seeing author Pam Bustin win the Best New Book of the Year Award. Her enthusiastic response to the win made me like her on sight, and made me curious about the book.

My choice for a Book Club selection I truly enjoyed Mostly Happy. Although it didn't bubble over with the same enthusisam that Bustin herself did that night, it still puts "happiness" in context.
104 reviews
January 15, 2016
Wonderful first novel by Pam Bustin. From th beginning I was hooked. I loved the concept of listing all the treasures in the little samsonite bag and building the story of Bean's life around these items. Some very dark material is covered, but it is presented in such a way that the title remains relevant.
Profile Image for Calista.
174 reviews
March 16, 2016
Bean immediately resonated with me. She is so much like Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird, another strong young female voice. I think I fell in love with Bean the moment she said she was practicing her inner voice-over.
Profile Image for Alexandria.
58 reviews
May 17, 2011
Loved every minute of this book. Recommended it non-stop for an entire month.
The story was exceptional and honest. seemingly told with the almost indifference of someone whose had a long life and come to terms with her story and the impact she made.
I loved bean, and I loved this book.
Profile Image for Elise.
47 reviews
June 21, 2011
Honestly one of my favourite books.

The story keeps you interested, she doesn't spend too much time on the "boring" stuff and it's written really well.
I got it from the the library but I'm definitely going to buy it next time I get a gift certificate!
Profile Image for Demi (Breaking Bookshelves).
104 reviews4 followers
August 31, 2011
The moment I started reading it I couldn't put it down. Amazing and moving. When I find this novel, purchase it and re-read it, I will write a proper review, one that takes time and effort deserving of such a wonderful book.
89 reviews
June 3, 2012
I happened upon this one at the library and loved it. I hope this author is working on another novel as she's very talented. I'll be thinking about Bean, Goose and other characters for a long time to come....
25 reviews
October 5, 2009
What a great character Bean is - resilient and easy to like. The Canadian references are few and not confusing. I think this one would be popular with students.
3 reviews
December 14, 2009
I loved this book. The characters were interesting and believable, and who can't help but love Bean?
Profile Image for Shannon.
12 reviews
March 2, 2010
LOVED this book and this author. I wish she'd write a follow-up to Bean's story!
Profile Image for Leslie.
77 reviews
July 29, 2011
This book was great. A little depressing near the end, but still a very good read.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 30 reviews

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