Know Not Why by Hannah Johnson

Howie gets a job at Artie Kraft's Arts 'N Crafts hoping to score with his lady coworkers. After all, girls love a sensitive guy, and what's more sensitive than dedicating your life to selling yarn and ... stuff? (Okay, so maybe it'd be a good idea to actually learn what one sells at an arts 'n crafts store.) But things don't go exactly according to plan. Coworker #1 is Kristy: blonde, bubbly, unattainable perfection. Coworker #2 is Cora: tiny, much-pierced, and way too fierce to screw with in any sense. And Coworker #3 is, well, Arthur. It goes without saying that he’s not an option. Right? … Right?

Know Not Why is like an episode of Gilmore Girls in novel form. It's the sort of story you want to read while curled up in bed (or stretched out on the beach), comforting and hilarious and banter-filled and relaxing and emotional and life-affirming and happy. It made me smile when I was feeling low, and when I finished, I was desperate for more, not because it's dramatic or cliffhangery or action packed, but because the characters felt like friends, and I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.

I don't usually read self-published books. It seems like too much of a risk, when there are so many good (and terrible) books that have been vetted and approved by many people before reaching the shelves. If a book was really worth my time, wouldn't it have gone through that process as well? But I was already somewhat familiar with Johnson's excellent writing, and the premise seemed fun, so I picked up the free sample. I read it all in one go, and immediately came back to buy the rest, even though I didn't exactly have $10 to spare. This book is fantastic. And, after reading the whole thing, it's clear why the author chose self-publishing. Know Not Why is a delightful 112,000 word long novel that defies genre. It's a coming of age story about people in their early 20s, who come to the realization that they don't have the slightest clue what they're doing in life. It's an LGBT romance, but it's very PG-13. Everything is about relationships and banter, with no graphic sex scenes in sight. Until the bookstores develop a section for twenty-something YA, I'm not sure where this book would fit. And it deserves to be read.

The protagonist, Howie, is a really interesting character, but one that might put off some readers at first. He's a total Nice Guy. He wouldn't think that he's sexist, but he gets a job at an Arts and Crafts store and befriends his adorable coworker simply because he wants to get laid. He occasionally uses homophobic language that might offend some readers, and although the author's writing style is engaging and hilarious from the first page, it's initially uncomfortable to be inside Howie's head. But that is to the author's credit. We should feel uncomfortable inside Howie's head, because Howie is uncomfortable inside his head. He covers up feelings of complete failure and self-disappointment and lack of direction in life with humor and false bravado, and the first part of the novel explores how those walls get knocked down and how he grows as a person into the kind and caring individual he is underneath. And his bravado-filled actions will come back to haunt him, because this story of love and friendship  features real, dynamic characters, with real consequences for their actions.

Once Howie's initial jerkitude passes, the book is beyond delightful. It's sweet and laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally heartwrenching in a yes, I feel that way about life too sort of way. You just want to hang out with these people and take part in their escapades. Discuss Austen with Howie's sequel-novel-writing mom. Watch a sappy rom-com with Kristy. Have Emily knit you a misshapen hat. It's a story about growing up and accepting who you are, even if you have no idea where you want to go, and I strongly recommend it to everyone looking for a great summer read.

Check it out on Amazon.