Friday, July 14, 2017

Review: This is How it Happened - Paula Stokes

This is How it Happened
Paula Stokes
Series: n/a
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Publisher: HarperTeen
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
Somehow I’ve become a liar. A coward. Here’s how it happened.

When Genevieve Grace wakes up from a coma, she can’t remember the car crash that injured her and killed her boyfriend Dallas, a YouTube star who had just released his first album. Genevieve knows she was there, and that there was another driver, a man named Brad Freeman, who everyone assumes is guilty. But as she slowly pieces together the night of the accident, Genevieve is hit with a sickening sense of dread—that maybe she had something to do with what happened.

As the internet rages against Brad Freeman, condemning him in a brutal trial by social media, Genevieve escapes to her father’s house, where she can hide from reporters and spend the summer volunteering in beautiful Zion National Park. But she quickly realizes that she can’t run away from the accident, or the terrible aftermath of it all.

Incredibly thought-provoking and beautifully told, Paula Stokes’s story will compel readers to examine the consequences of making mistakes in a world where the internet is always watching…and judging.

Hi everyone :) This is Day 5 of my THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED blog tour. You can find the whole schedule of posts in the lead post on my blog right now.

I’m blogging about the different challenges I faced while writing and revising the novel. Challenge #5 was how to write an “issue book” or a book with a message. The story is about Genevieve Grace, a girl who is in a car crash that kills her famous YouTube boyfriend. When Gen wakes up from a coma, she knows that she was driving, but she doesn’t remember what happened. The rest of the world has already started blaming the other driver, and they are using the internet to call for him to be arrested for vehicular manslaughter. Many people have gone beyond this message to call the other driver a murderer or threaten him/his family with violence, or try to get him fired from his place of employment, etc. As is often the case online, most people only know part of the story and things spiral rapidly out of control.

So, a couple things here. This book obviously has some strong messages about the way we (I say “we” because I’m not totally innocent here either) use the internet to exact justice or exert punishment against people we think deserve it, often before anyone knows all the facts. This story also hinges on a car accident and has some things to say about driving safety. My cousin Dallas died about ten years ago, when he was in his mid-twenties, in a similar (but not exactly the same) type of accident. We weren’t close—he lived in a different state and I only saw that side of my family every couple of years, but I did go to his funeral. It really impacted me that someone so young, so vibrant, so well-liked, so full of life, could just…die. He never got married or had kids or found a career he loved or got to travel the world. That’s tragic, you guys. I don’t want that to happen to any of you. I won’t get into the specifics of the accident, because I think it’s best if you learn what happened alongside Genevieve as she regains her memories, but I really hope this book makes some people who maybe aren’t the safest drivers take a hard look at whether they’re risking their lives (and the lives of others) when they get behind the wheel.

I’ve written eleven novels (fourteen if you count my two drawer novels and the two half-books I quit on) and This is How it Happened is the one with the strongest…agenda, I guess you could say? Not that my other books were “message free” or anything. The Art of Lainey talks about not defining yourself through other people and not judging people based on their physical appearance. Liars, Inc. obviously has some things to say about the danger of lying. Girl Against the Universe delves pretty deeply into anxiety and fear and luck and why bad things happen to good people. And so on. But This is How it Happened tries to be persuasive in a way that my other books didn’t, and that was really hard for me.

You see, I’m kind of jaded ;) I don’t like it when strangers tell me what to do, and this generally goes for books and movies too. As soon as I feel like I’m getting the “But listen. HERE’S how you should live your life” lecture, I tend to emotionally check out. A good example would be the movie Shallow Hal. It’s a cute idea and the messages in it are great, but they’re portrayed in a heavy-handed way (in my opinion.) Ditto for Pay it Forward. I didn’t read the book and I loved the idea for the movie, but the execution was a little too preachy for me. An example of a movie I think that has a strong message but lays it out in a subtle and excellent way is the movie About a Boy, with Hugh Grant. (I cannot comment on the TV show, but the movie is brilliant.)

So. I didn’t want to turn off people like me by being overly moralistic. But at the same time, I’m quite sure some people loved both Shallow Hal and Pay it Forward. And that means one reader’s “Blech! This is so lame *eyeroll*” book is another reader’s “OMG. This affected me on a profound level!” book. In other words, there is no right way to do it. I just had to find a balance of subtlety and persuasion that was comfortable for me. And so that’s what I did :)

I had two major strategies. First, I tried to write the book in a way where it’s not telling people how to behave on the internet—it’s encouraging people to think about the consequences of their posts. Not just what happens in the next five minutes online, but what happens online and offline over the next few days or weeks. Think beyond the sense of satisfaction you’ll get by telling off this stranger, or the laughs you’ll get for this funny own. Think about how this would affect someone who is emotionally struggling or about how it could add to a louder chorus of voices to cause an unintended effect. Think about people beyond the target who your post could hurt. The book is not telling people to be nice online. I respect a person’s right to be angry or mocking or vicious or cruel if that’s who they want to be in any given moment. But is that who we want to be? Or has the internet made it really easy to respond instinctively or emotionally without giving our responses enough thought?

Honestly, some people are probably rolling their eyes right now, and that’s fine. Because other people are probably nodding their heads. Readers bring their own histories, identities, and emotions to each book they read. The same book will be interpreted and experienced differently by different people. If you enjoy calling people out online and you’ve never felt the scorn of a public shaming, this book might not appeal you, and that’s okay. I had never been publicly shamed when I wrote it (I have since, but only mildly), but I had seen it done and it was very easy for me to imagine myself in that role. I mean, who among us hasn’t said something thoughtless or responded to someone in anger or behaved in a way that the general public might take offense to in any given moment. The story of “Dog Poop Girl” that I talk about in the author’s note—so many people I knew in Korea thought it was hilarious that a girl had been forced to drop out of college and go into hiding because she didn’t clean up her dog’s feces when it defecated on a subway. I thought it was horrifyingly sad that a twenty-year-old had been shamed to despair and driven to thoughts of suicide over something so banal.

My second strategy was even simpler than the first. I pulled out what I felt were the “preachiest” passages and emailed them to people, like: “Hey, do you think this is preachy?” One of the ones I’m thinking of is near the end of the book. Genevieve is talking about how people think their individual voices have no power, but when a lot of people are saying the same thing, voices amplify, which can be good or bad. I’ll admit—it’s the kind of thing you would hear in a motivational speech in a high school gym. But considering that Genevieve is actually giving a speech in a Mormon youth hall at the time, it felt possibly okay to me that she was being so direct. When my editor and multiple beta-readers told me “I think it’s perfect as is” I trusted their judgment. Some people have reviewed the book and said it felt preachy, some said it felt really moving and profound. And again, that’s okay. If even a handful of people think more deeply about their online posts and/or their driving safety, then in a tiny way this book will have impacted the world. Pretty cool, huh? :)

What do you think about “issue books” or stories that have strong messages? Do you have a favorite book or movie you’d like to recommend? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Want to win a copy of THIS IS HOW IT HAPPENED or any of my novels? Enter the Rafflecopter below. And if you want to follow the whole blog tour (it’s only five stops), you can find all the posts on my blog. You can also read the first four chapters, and score a swag pack with a signed bookplate, signed bookmarks, a magnet, and two stickers if you order the book by July 16th.


I confess, I am a Paula Stokes fangirl. I have enjoyed many of her previous books, and have always  admired her ability to genre jump and do it well. This time Stokes brings us a contemporary that takes on two important issues, one being online shaming, a topic which really resonated with me.

This book begins shortly after Genevieve's boyfriend is killed in a car accident. The police have a suspect, but not the full story, as Genevieve has no memory of the crash. Immediately people flock to social media to share their thoughts. This aspect of the book really hit home for me, because I remember when things like this did NOT happen.

Once upon a time, when there was an accident, information would be released to a news outlet and then disseminated to the public. Now, in this digital age, a great deal of information is passed from the man on the street to the world at large. An amateur video, picture, or statement is Tweeted and moves across the earth like wildfire. Details are omitted to fit the author's narrative, and facts are not always verified. People's emotions heighten, and then they wage a war from behind their keyboards. We have seen this happen, and we have seen the results of online vigilante justice. Stokes did a great job capturing the fervor of these exchanges and used these Twitter threads and blog comments thoughtfully and wisely in this book.

This book is sort of split into two parts for me: before Genevieve remembers and after Genevieve remembers. As Genevieve begins to heal from the accident, bits and pieces of the events leading up to Dallas' death are revealed. I thought this part was done so well. I could feel Genevieve's fear as she would get these flashes. There was tension and doubt, and I found myself a little nervous as we approached the truth.

The after focused on dealing with the fallout. Genevieve was tried in the court of social media, while she was attempting to work though her own pain, grief, and guilt. My heart broke when she would deprive herself any enjoyment, because she had to worry what people she didn't even know would think. I really liked Gen, and admired the strength she showed on so many occasions, even if she did not always make the best decisions.

I must mention how much I loved the setting. I have never been to Utah, but now I feel as though I have. Stokes painted it with broad brushstrokes for me, and I can only assumed this is someplace she loves. I had a wonderful time along with Genevieve in the state park, and hope to visit there for real someday.

Aside from the beauty of Zion National Park, there were a lot of great things that happened in Utah. Genevieve grew so much during her time there, and not just with respect to the accident. The experience brought her father back into her life, and it made her appreciate her mother a little more. She opened her heart to a new group of people, and she was better for it. Right here and now, I will tell you that Stokes gave Gen a fantastic love interest. I adored Elliot so much! And his dads were fabulous too. I mean an American Ninja Warrior training gym? That's supercool.

In the afterword, Stokes thanks us fans for "genre jumping" with her. I will always follow, if Stokes continues to deliver books that are interesting, though provoking, and entertaining to me. I was throughly engrossed in this story, and look forward to more from Stokes.

**I would like to thank the publisher for the advanced copy of this book. Quotes are from an ARC and may change upon publication.


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Paula Stokes is the author of several novels, most recently This is How it Happened, Vicarious and Girl Against the Universe. Her writing has been translated into eleven foreign languages. Paula loves kayaking, hiking, reading, and seeking out new adventures in faraway lands. She also loves interacting with readers. Find her online at or on twitter as @pstokesbooks.


What do you think about “issue books” or stories that have strong messages? 
Do you have a favorite book or movie you’d like to recommend?
Let us know in the comments!


  1. Great guest post! Paula Stokes seems to real and honest with her answer! I will need to check this book out and author!

    1. I have loved all of her books, and I was really impressed with her first issues book.

  2. This sounds fabulous! I love the fact that social media plays a part of the story. I have read one book by Paula Stokes and it was very different than this one sounds. She does have a wide range.

    1. It's the sort of stuff that plays out for read on Twitter too, and is one of my biggest pet peeves when it comes to social media. And yeah, there is no putting Stokes in a box. I have read 4 books, and am amazed at her ability to genre jump so well.

  3. I loved Paula's advice!! I totally hate and rebel when things get preachy, so I completely agree that it is a fine line when you are pushing an agenda or teaching a lesson in a book or movie. I more like books that make me THINK about things rather than tell me what to think. I feel like if she makes people THINK about driving and how fragile life is, then that is a win-- rather than her being like PEOPLE, YOU HAVE TO BE SAFER ON THE ROADS!! I KNOW BETTER!!

    Great review also!! I'm so hyped for this book!

    1. You read my mind. When I read issues books, I want teach not preach, and I agree, it is easy to step over that very fine line, but this book definitely did not come across as preachy. I think it's because she achieved a sort of balance by presenting the many different sides of it all. So, I was thinking rather than feeling admonished. I always hope, when I read books that touch upon certain issues, that they will reach some people. That is where the beauty lies. I hope some people internalize some of the ideas about internet shaming and drowsy driving (which is not talked about much) from this book.

  4. I've only read one Paula Stokes book I think but have like 2 or 3 on my TBR! And I agree, I've noticed she seems to genre jump very well! Loved the guest post and it was nice to see her take on how she approached this book, and very important subject. Social media is often just a wildfire burning out of control and I'm glad someone is addressing it! My aunt died after being hit by a drunk driver so I can relate to where she's coming from as well.

    1. I am so sorry about your aunt, but thanks for sharing that. I think the case with most of these issues is that the collective "we" do not believe it will affect us. I think back when I first started engaging with social media, I thought it was ok to "vent", but then I saw how bad it was getting, and just decided I could not contribute to the negative part of it any longer. I do a lot of that typing and deleting thing, without ever posting my rants, though. 🙄

  5. I feel like I've been shouting out my excitement about this book all over the blogosphere! Any time there's a blog post pertaining to this book I swoop in, gulp in every single word that has been said, and comment with intense fervour. :) My preorder is on its way! As well as the preorder swag, thanks to Paula! I can't wait I can't wait I can't wait!!!!!!!

    Also I loved reading what she had to say. I can see how it might be difficult to write about this kind of issue without being preachy, and I hope that it'll be a nice balance for me when I read it.

    Cass @ Words on Paper

    1. I think that is the struggle any time you are trying to approach an issue, and I thought Stokes did a fantastic job, and that is coming from someone who is known to do a bunch of eye-rolls when reading a lot of issues books. It never came off heavy handed to me. And yes! When I love a book or am excited, I try to talk about it everywhere too. 😊

  6. I'm so excited to read this book!! It's really managed to capture my eye topic wise, since we do live in such a social media obsessed world. She's incredibly right about how social media can really turn around a story when it involves a tragic accident, something that wouldn't have happened pre-facebook, twitter, etc. When I was in high school, there was a tragic car accident involving 2 boys from my high school, and the Facebook statues slamming the one and praising the other one got so incredibly out of control, especially since till this day we'll never know what exactly happened. So I'm interested to see how the book deals with this kind of thing. Also, the setting sounds great, especially the national park.

    1. Seriously, book me a flight to Utah now. But as for all the social media stuff, I am so happy it did not exist when I was a teen. The most dubious thing we had to deal with were slam books and three way calls with one person secretly on the line. The worst part about it, is that people don't realize the power of their words, this and a bunch of other social media stuff is addressed within the story in a very thoughtful way, and I felt it was done really well.

  7. I haven't yet read any of Stokes books, but she's one of those authors that I follow closely anyway---I just know I'll love her books, but I can't explain why I have only picked up one so far and why I haven't read it! I'm happy that you genre-hopped with her because it certainly sounds like it was worth it!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. I think my first Stokes book was Liars, Inc., and I really liked it. I am starting Vicarious soon, and cannot wait to experience yet another genre with Stokes.