Book Review: Happiness and Other Diseases by Sumiko Saulson

Content Warnings: Explicit sexual content, dubious consent, gore, death, suicidal ideation, self-harm, torture, mental illness

Happiness and Other Diseases

Flynn has had a rough run of it. His life was never great, but lately, his nightmares have been so bad that he’s on the brink of collapse. With few options, he checks into a psychiatric hospital. There he meets Charlotte who tells him that his dreams are oh so very real… and she wants to be a part of them.

Charlotte is a somnali… well, technically, a demi-somnali. She can traverse the dreamworld and mold the dreams of mortals. Her father—a godlike being named Brash—wants her to give him a grandchild, which would allow him and the other somnali to cross into the world of the living. To do that, she needs Flynn.

Together they explore their fantasies, cope with reality, juggle friends and otherworldly relatives, and find what it means to be happy—even if it’s not what people consider “normal”.

Saulson weaves a deep and fascinating world, blending Greek mythology into the modern Bay area. The complicated history of the somnali is made accessible to the average reader. Their characters are multifaceted. No one is entirely good or evil, or even stable. This realism in Saulson’s writing was appreciated, especially with regard to thier treatment of mental health.

While the story showcases healthy communication—both in relationships and in BDSM—sometimes these interactions seem stilted. The story features some seriously disturbing scenes (things I’m not even sure how to tag), but if you go in with an open mind, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how touching this tale of doomed love really is.

If you’re interested in Greek mythology, dreams, BDSM, or just the crazy ups and downs of new love, Happiness, and Other Diseases is a good pick for you.

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