With the enigmatic sentence “We didn’t call the police right away,” Angie Kim’s Happiness Falls is off and running—luring the reader into an unforgettable journey through this epic new novel that is quite unlike anything else on the market. Happiness Falls is a missing persons mystery mashed up with a metaphysical manifesto, with each half of that equation presenting fundamental questions that intrigue the reader and propel the novel forward in unusual but undeniable ways.

Told in retrospect by Mia Parson—the twenty-year old daughter in a biracial Korean American family now living in Virginia—Happiness Falls is the story of family and what it means to pull together in a time of crisis. One summer day, Mia’s father and brother go hiking in River Falls Park, but only Eugene (her brother) returns. This might not sound too alarming, however, Eugene is autistic and has been diagnosed with mosaic Angelman syndrome resulting in his inability to talk, motor skill deficiencies, and a permanent smile, so there is no way Adam Parson would have allowed his fourteen-year-old son to walk home alone.

Mia’s narration shows her to be snarky and erudite, but also insecure (and extremely relatable). When her twin brother and mother find out that Mr. Parson never returned from the hike, the entire family knows that something is terribly wrong. Before they can contact the authorities, the police show up to discuss the car accident that Eugene caused while crossing the road unattended. This sets into motion an investigation of this missing father and model citizen.

Readers who enjoyed Angie Kim’s Edgar-Award-winning debut, Miracle Creek, already know that her brand of crime novel straddles the line with more literary works. If anything, Happiness Falls cements that trademark of her work, but also confirms that in her hands even everyday discussions can become mysterious and gripping. Adam Parson was a man interested in the nature of happiness and set about trying to prove some unusual theories. As the novel unspools, readers learn more about those experiments and rather than distract from the missing persons case, this line of inquiry only elevates the tension surrounding the proceedings. The underlying case is typical domestic suspense fodder, but what Angie Kim layers upon it is nothing short of brilliant.

As the family and authorities struggle to communicate with Eugene, the real heart of Happiness Falls is exposed. Readers are forced to confront their own biases and judgements in truly profound ways. As Mia comes to understand the many errors she has made—both surrounding her father’s missing persons case and in life in general—readers mature with her. It’s almost like the bildungsroman tradition emanates off the page and into the mind of the reader. No one will be the same after having read Happiness Falls. There were times later in the novel when the tears streaming down the face made it impossible to turn the page and yet the need to know the truth becomes all-consuming.

Set against the backdrop of the pandemic, Happiness Falls casts a spell over readers—this is a family to care about, not as fictional characters on the page, but as living, breathing people we might encounter outside our own front door. What proports to be a traditional mystery novel is really a deep look into the mysteries of humanity. It’s nearly impossible to write something that is truly unique, but Angie Kim has crafted a work where every part is inextricably bound to each of the others in ways that seem almost magical but really are simply great storytelling.

Happiness Falls is not only one of the best novels of the year, but also one of the best novels ever. Readers will find themselves wanting to check in on the Parson Family even after the final pages are turned. Not only because we care about them, but because we recognize that they make us better people by association. This is a novel of ideas and ideals that forever change the way we view the world. That is more than can be expected from any reading experience, but it’s exactly what Angie Kim delivers in Happiness Falls.

BUY LINKS: Happiness Falls by Angie Kim

Disclaimer: A print galley of this title was provided to BOLO Books by the publisher. No promotion was promised and the above is an unbiased review of the novel.