Happiness Falls (Good Morning America Book Club)

A Novel



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August 29, 2023 | ISBN 9780593790427

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About the Book

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER GOOD MORNING AMERICA BOOK CLUB PICK • When a father goes missing, his family’s desperate search leads them to question everything they know about him and one another in this thrilling page-turner, a deeply moving portrait of a family in crisis from the award-winning author of Miracle Creek.

Belletrist Book Club Pick • Finalist for the New American Voices Award • “This is a story with so many twists and turns I was riveted through the last page.”—Jodi Picoult

One of the Most Anticipated Books of the Season: The New York Times • Los Angeles TimesOprah QuarterlyTimeSt. Louis Post Dispatch Lit HubPublishers WeeklyCrimeReads • ABC News • USA Today

“A brilliant, satisfying, compassionate mystery that is as much about language and storytelling as it is about a missing father. I loved this book.”—Gabrielle Zevin, author of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

“I fell in love with the fascinating, brilliant family at the center of this riveting book.”—Ann Napolitano, author of Hello Beautiful

“We didn’t call the police right away.” Those are the electric first words of this extraordinary novel about a biracial Korean American family in Virginia whose lives are upended when their beloved father and husband goes missing.

Mia, the irreverent, hyperanalytical twenty-year-old daughter, has an explanation for everything—which is why she isn’t initially concerned when her father and younger brother Eugene don’t return from a walk in a nearby park. They must have lost their phone. Or stopped for an errand somewhere. But by the time Mia’s brother runs through the front door bloody and alone, it becomes clear that the father in this tight-knit family is missing and the only witness is Eugene, who has the rare genetic condition Angelman syndrome and cannot speak.

What follows is both a ticking-clock investigation into the whereabouts of a father and an emotionally rich portrait of a family whose most personal secrets just may be at the heart of his disappearance. Full of shocking twists and fascinating questions of love, language, and human connection, Happiness Falls is a mystery, a family drama, and a novel of profound philosophical inquiry. With all the powerful storytelling she brought to her award-winning debut, Miracle Creek, Angie Kim turns the missing-person story into something wholly original, creating an indelible tale of a family who must go to remarkable lengths to truly understand one another.
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Praise for Happiness Falls (Good Morning America Book Club)

“This riveting missing-person thriller is really a meditation on happiness that illuminates the power of language and challenges readers’ stereotypes.”People (Book of the Week)

“One of the smartest, most multi-layered mysteries of the year . . . Deftly crafted and truly riveting, this novel about heartache and hope, the author’s second, proves Kim is a powerful voice that’s here to stay.”The Boston Globe

“Angie Kim’s powerhouse of a novel offers a probing exploration of the intersection of communication, speech and intelligence that not only gives voice to a silenced population but concludes with a fantastic twist.”The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“A riveting, suspenseful read that doubles as a nuanced family tale.”Elle

“[A] deliciously brainy new thriller . . . Happiness Falls dares to unlock the enigma of love at the molecular level while serving up a page-turner.”The Washington Post

“Both a page-turner and a meditation on a family in crisis . . . full of gorgeous writing, surprising twists, and personal secrets.”—USA Today

“With unexpected humor and aching tenderness, the bestselling author of Miracle Creek forces us to reckon with our definitions of family, ability, and happiness.”—Oprah Quarterly

“Kim uses the parallel investigations of police and family to explore the complex dynamics of interracial marriage, Asian and biracial identity in America, and the nuances of raising a child with special needs. You’ll want to savor every word as Kim plunges the depths of human action and finds love at the center.”—CrimeReads

“A brilliant novel that has everything I want in fiction—great writing, fascinating characters, suspenseful storytelling, and thought-provoking themes. Readers are going to fall in love with Happiness Falls.”—Imbolo Mbue, author of How Beautiful We Were

“I read Happiness Falls in a single day. I can’t remember a book with more layers—this is a nuanced story about bias, language, ableism, racism, and family dynamics—but above all else this is a story with so many twists and turns I was riveted through the last page.”—Jodi Picoult, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Happiness Falls is another superlative effort in what is fast shaping up to be a remarkable career.”—#1 New York Times bestselling author David Baldacci

“Brilliant . . . amazing . . . the claim that a book will change your life often seems like exaggeration. Here the potential is real.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“A philosophical family drama that is as page-turning as it is thought-provoking. Book groups will find much to discuss here, especially those who like Celeste Ng.”Booklist (starred review)

“A sublime literary mystery that is a mesmerizing update to the missing person story, a layered and innovative exploration of family, love, happiness, and race.”—Jean Kwok, author of Searching for Sylvie Lee

“[A] revelatory masterpiece . . . I stayed up half the night to finish this novel, and when I woke in the morning, I turned back to the first page to begin again.”—Anthony Marra, author of Mercury Pictures Presents

“I began reading Happiness Falls expecting a murder mystery. What I got was the most moving and humbling portrait of humanity I’ve read in quite some time.”—Mary Beth Keane, author of Ask Again, Yes

“Brilliant, immersive, and deeply moving . . . a book that will change the way you think—a book that will change your life.”—Julia Phillips, author of Disappearing Earth

Happiness Falls . . . keeps you thinking and guessing and feeling all at the same time.”—Liz Moore, author of Long Bright River

“[A] page-turner about a missing man and a precise (and luminous) exploration of what it’s like to be the teens he has left behind.”—Chris Bohjalian, author of The Lioness

“Kim is a tremendous writer . . . a compelling mystery as well as a guide to managing the uncertainties of life and the challenges of family.”—Steph Cha, author of Your House Will Pay

“One of best mystery novels ever written.”—Gary Shteyngart, author of Our Country Friends

“An exhilarating literary tour de force . . . [Happiness Falls] will introduce you to extraordinary characters whose lives will leave you forever changed.”—Danielle Trussoni, author of The Puzzle Master

Happiness Falls is on the one hand a profound meditation on the meaning of life and the nature of happiness, while on the other hand a riveting mystery replete with suspense.”—Chris Pavone, author of Two Nights in Lisbon

“This book will stay with you long after you turn the final, satisfying page.”—Alafair Burke, author of Find Me

“[A] rare book that can change your entire outlook on the world.”—Janelle Brown, author of Pretty Things
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Happiness Falls (Good Morning America Book Club)


Locke, Bach, and K-­pop

We didn’t call the police right away. Later, I would blame myself, wonder if things might have turned out differently if I hadn’t shrugged it off, insisting Dad wasn’t missing missing but just delayed, probably still in the woods looking for Eugene, thinking he’d run off somewhere. Mom says it wasn’t my fault, that I was merely being optimistic, but I know better. I don’t believe in optimism. I believe there’s a fine line (if any) between optimism and willful idiocy, so I try to avoid optimism altogether, lest I fall over the line mistakenly.

My twin brother, John, keeps trying to make me feel better, too, saying we couldn’t have known something was wrong because it was such a typical morning, which is an asinine thing to say because why would you assume things can’t go wrong simply because they haven’t yet? Life isn’t geometry; terrible, life-­changing moments don’t happen predictably, at the bottom of a linear slope. Tragedies and accidents are tragic and accidental precisely because of their unexpectedness. Besides, labeling anything about our family “typical”—­I just have to shake my head. I’m not even thinking about the typical-­adjacent stuff like John’s and my boy-­girl twin thing, our biracial mix (Korean and white), untraditional parental gender roles (working mom, stay-­at-­home dad), or different last names (Parson for Dad + Park for Mom = the mashed-­up Parkson for us kids)—­not common, certainly, but hardly shocking in our area these days. Where we’re indubitably, inherently atypical is with my little brother Eugene’s dual diagnosis: autism and a rare genetic disorder called mosaic Angelman syndrome (AS), which means he can’t talk, has motor difficulties, and—­this is what fascinates many people who’ve never heard of AS—­has an unusually happy demeanor with frequent smiles and laughter.

Sorry, I’m getting sidetracked. It’s one of my biggest faults and something I’m trying to work on. (To be honest, I don’t like shutting it down entirely because sometimes, those tangents can end up being important and/or fun. For example, my honors thesis, Philosophy of Music and Algorithmic Programming: Locke, Bach, and K-­pop vs. Prokofiev, Sartre, and Jazz Rap, grew from a footnote in my original proposal. Also, I can’t help it; it’s the way my mind works. So here’s a compromise: I’ll put my side points in footnotes. If you love fun little detours like Dad and me, you can read them. If you find footnotes annoying (like John) or want to know what happened ASAP (like Mom), you can skip them. If you’re undecided, you can try a few, mix and match.)

So, anyway, I was talking about the police. The fact is, I knew something was wrong. We all did. We didn’t want to call the police because we didn’t want to say it out loud, much the same way I’m going around and around now, fixating on this peripheral issue of calling the police instead of just saying what happened.

Here goes: my fifty-­year-­old father, Adam Parson, is missing. At 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, June 23, 2020, he and my fourteen-­year-­old brother Eugene hiked to the nearby River Falls Park, the same as they had done most mornings since I’d been home from college for the quarantine. We know they made it to the park; witnesses have come forward, a dozen hikers and dog-­walkers who saw them together at various points around the waterfall trail as late as 11:10 a.m. At 11:38 a.m. (we know the exact time from the dashcam recording), Eugene was out of the woods, running in the middle of a narrow country road in our neighborhood, forcing a driver who’d run through a stop sign and turned too fast to swerve into a ditch to avoid hitting him. Just before the dashcam video jolts from the crash, you can see a fuzzy Eugene, not stopping, not turning, not even looking at the car or at anything else—­just stumbling a little, so close to the car you’d swear he got hit. The screech of the tires and the sound of the car thudding into the ditch, not to mention the chain reaction of the two cars behind it, apparently caused a terrible cacophony of metallic crunching, banging, and squealing that brought people out, and bystanders reported seeing a boy they later identified as Eugene staggering away. It bears note that not one of the five bystanders, three drivers, or two passengers involved in the crash saw my father precede, follow, or accompany Eugene. We confirmed this multiple times, and it is beyond dispute: Eugene was in our neighborhood alone.

While all that was going on, I was in the midst of what I was thinking of as one of the great tragic moments of my life. It’s funny how relative these types of judgments are, how much they can change depending on context: that day has obviously since become The Day Dad Disappeared, but if you’d asked me that morning, I’d have sworn it was The Day of the Big Breakup. Not that it was as dramatic as all that. The breakup itself had, unbeknownst to me, happened earlier through Vic’s semi-­ghosting, which I’d noticed but misinterpreted as him needing alone time. This was my first Serious Relationship (as in, one lasting more than six months), and I thought I was being considerate in stepping back rather than nagging for attention and insisting he open up to me and bare his soul or whatever, but what I was apparently actually doing was failing a test of some sort—­how much I cared, how much our relationship meant to me, etc. That morning’s call was merely a courtesy notification of the results.

I listened quietly to Vic’s (trying a little too hard to be) cool, matter-­of-­fact conclusion that he thought it best we “remain separated” because I obviously didn’t care all that much, and it occurred to me that this call was yet another test, which I could pass by acting upset and saying “of course I care” and “it’s just the quarantine and the ­agony of being apart, the angst of isolation,” blah blah. But I don’t do ­drama. Also, I was pretty pissed that this guy who usually extolled my “refreshingly low-­maintenance lack of game playing” was playing one himself and expecting me to participate and excel. It was juvenile, insulting, and, frankly, more than a little deceitful. Which is exactly what I said as soon as he stopped talking, right before I hung up. (I believe in saying what you’re thinking, as much as is practicable.) I threw my phone across the room—­hanging up on an iPhone isn’t nearly as satisfying as slamming down an old-­fashioned phone like our kitchen landline, and besides, I had an industrial-­strength titanium phone protector—­but damned if it didn’t land on my plush comforter.

I was contemplating picking it up to try again when I saw something out the window that stopped me: a boy in a bright yellow shirt, rounding our street corner, running fast. The thing my brain couldn’t reconcile was that the shirt was definitely Eugene’s—­I distinctly remembered him wearing it that morning—­but that running gait was definitely not. Eugene’s mosaic Angelman syndrome means that he has two distinct sets of genes in his body: some cells with an imprinting defect and some that function normally. The mosaicism makes him “less affected,” without some of the most severe symptoms that can plague AS kids, like seizures and difficulties walking and eating. Eugene can do some things he’s been practicing all his life like using utensils, walking, and even running, but he has issues maintaining consistent coordination and speed. It’s like a tongue twister; you might manage saying it once or twice carefully and slowly, but the longer and/or quicker the utterance, the greater the chances of tripping up. Eugene needed years of therapy just to walk long distances—­that’s why the daily hikes to and from the park with Dad, for practice—­and I’d always thought he didn’t like running at all. So how was it possible that this boy who appeared to be my little brother was running the length of our long street?

It’s funny with siblings, how you think of them as just there, but then something great or awful happens that unearths and makes visible what Koreans call jeong. It’s hard to explain in English; it’s not any particular emotion—­not affection or even love—­but a complex bond defined by its depth and history: that sense of belonging to the same whole, your fates intertwined, impossible to sever no matter how much you may want to. I rushed downstairs, threw open the front door, and ran outside, barefoot. “Oh my God, Eugene, look at you go,” I yelled out and clapped and—God, this is so not me, but I couldn’t help it—­even whooped and jumped a little.

About the Author

Angie Kim
Angie Kim moved as a preteen from Seoul, South Korea, to the suburbs of Baltimore. After graduating from Interlochen Arts Academy, she studied philosophy at Stanford University and attended Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review. Her debut novel, Miracle Creek, won the Edgar Award, the ITW Thriller Award, the Strand Critics’ Award, and the Pinckley Prize and was named one of the best books of the year by Time, The Washington Post, Kirkus Reviews, and the Today show. Angie Kim lives in northern Virginia with her family. More by Angie Kim
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