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Book Review

Whatever Makes You Happy by William Sutcliffe has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

Carol, Helen and Gillian are old friends. Their sons, Matt, Paul and Daniel, used to play together. Now the boys are in their mid-30s. All are unmarried, and somewhat unsettled adults. The mothers are eager for grandchildren, but fear it may never happen. They also grieve the loss of their relationships with their sons. Each decides to make a surprise, week-long visit to her son to reconnect and see if she can overhaul his life.

Carol surprises Matt at his chic London flat. She knows he’s a magazine editor, but only after she spends the day alone in his apartment does she discover the publication, BALLS!, is pornography. She also finds a box of sex toys under his bed.

Matt is a frequent partier, who often brings home young models for one-night stands. Forgetting his mother has come to stay, he drinks heavily and brings home a girl he’s just met. Carol meets them at the door with a chicken diner. Since the couple feels the fun is more in the chase than the sex itself, they’re delighted to eat a home-cooked meal, rather than go to bed. Matt makes the model go home when he learns she’s only 17.

While Matt usually cares little about morals, he feels unsettled by his mother’s weeping over his lifestyle. He begins to realize his life may not be the ideal life after all. Carol meets a woman named Julia at Matt’s public relations event and sets them up. Matt is reluctant at first, but finds himself enamored with this beautiful, intelligent, mature woman. Julia isn’t impressed with Matt and refuses his requests to go out again. He pursues her further, to no avail.

Helen knocks on Paul’s door and is met by a nearly-naked, obviously-gay man named Andre. She learns he is Paul’s boyfriend. She’s always suspected Paul was gay and never had a problem with it. She’s just upset he never told her himself. Paul isn’t home yet, so Andre invites her inside. She learns five gay men live in the house. She speculates it may be a gay commune and wonders if the older man who owns it offers free rent for sexual favors. Paul arrives and is shocked to see Helen talking to Andre. Over dinner, she confronts Paul about never “coming out” to her. The other men playfully urge him to do it there at the dinner table.

Paul reveals he provided sperm for a lesbian couple. His friends now have a young daughter. Paul talks about the “arrangement” repeatedly, wherein he is a donor but not a father. Helen only hears “grandchild.” She visits the couple and gently asks to see the baby. Afterward, she encourages Paul to take an active role in the baby’s life despite the arrangement. She says this little girl deserves to know about her biological father.

Helen recalls her husband’s promiscuity even during the early years of their marriage. After he spent the day with a girlfriend, when he was supposed to be camping with the family and friends, Helen called it quits. She later remarried her current husband, a man she doesn’t find very interesting.

Gillian visits Scotland, where Daniel has moved to get away from being heartbroken. He is still in love with Erin, with whom he had a lengthy friendship, and an intense romantic and sexual relationship. When they continued to argue about whether to have children, she told him they should spend a month apart. He could contact her after that month if he was sure he was ready to be a father. By the end of the month, Daniel was sure Erin was the one for him and that he wanted a family with her. Still, he spent a few extra weeks drinking and partying to get it out of his system. When he used his key to get into Erin’s house and proclaim his love, he found her with another man.

Gillian initially annoys Daniel with racial slurs and critical comments about his ex-girlfriends. She tries to break him out of his depression by setting him up with a friend of a relative. The woman turns out to be an angry feminist with many other issues, and Daniel can’t wait to get away from her. Gillian finally urges Daniel to contact Erin and see if the relationship can be mended.

Gillian also remembers the family camping trip where Helen’s husband met up with a girlfriend. Larry took her husband, Ian, with him. The two men spent the day drinking and sleeping with other women. Unlike Helen, Gillian didn’t end the marriage. She spent a year making Ian suffer without sex, while teasing him. He came to realize this was his punishment, and he accepted it. Gillian says their sex life was amazing ever since.

The book ends at Erin and Daniel’s wedding a year later. They also have a baby. Paul is active in his biological daughter’s life. Matt has reverted to his old ways, but Carol realizes it’s a mother’s job to love her son even if she doesn’t especially like him.

Christian Beliefs


Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

The mothers believe their sons owe them grandchildren, or at least some kind of civil, mother-son relationship. They visit in hopes of helping their sons straighten out their lives. Paul’s father, Larry, has frequent affairs and pulls Daniel’s father, Ian, into his sexual schemes.


The Lord’s name is used in vain in various forms. Words including the f-word, s---, slut, whore, d--k, crap, arsehole, p---, b--tard, pr--k and b--ch appear frequently.


Male characters frequently think or talk about breasts, tits, penises, balls, hardness, erections, arousal, orgasms, condoms and getting laid.

Promiscuous Matt is the editor of a pornographic magazine called BALLS! Carol finds a copy and notes pages full of nude women and half-naked women, whose crotches are covered with props.

Helen talks about meeting her first husband, Larry, and their intense sexual relationship. After Paul was born, Larry continued to party and even brought women back to their spare room for sex. He also tried to get Helen to participate in threesomes. Helen says this was not an abnormal thing among their peer group. She realizes, in hindsight, that what she and her friends had considered women’s liberation was just the opposite. Her marriage, and all of her friends’ marriages, fell apart.

Paul is gay and lives in a house full of gay men. His partner, Andre, answers the door wearing pants so low, his pubic hair is almost showing. Paul tells his mother he didn’t think he needed to “come out” to her about his sexuality. He says it’s not a sin, and she should have been able to figure it out for herself. Paul calls Helen ignorant and prejudiced for not acknowledging that many types of families besides nuclear families exist.

Daniel and Erin’s sexual relationship is described in detail. The text also describes Daniel having intercourse and oral sex with an old girlfriend several times.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Drugs/Alcohol: Characters drink, sometimes heavily. Matt has sold drugs to friends on occasion but believes this doesn’t make him a drug dealer. He uses cocaine at a club while he’s partying with Daniel. Daniel gets drunk and passes out on a friend’s couch.

Abortion: Daniel goes out with a woman who shares too much about her past relationships and says she couldn’t go through with another abortion.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

18 and up


William Sutcliffe






Record Label



Bloomsbury Publishing


On Video

Year Published





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