Monday, February 8, 2016

Book Review: I Was Here

Title: I Was Here
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
Source: Purchased
Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.

My Review

I Was Here is a book that I've had on my shelf for over a year now. I bought it on the day that it was published, but something kept holding me back. I wanted to read it, but I was afraid to actually read the novel. I finally sat down with it, and I was immediately immersed in Gayle Forman's writing. I did not want to put this book down, and I probably wouldn't have if it weren't for the clock saying that it was two in the morning. 

Obviously I Was Here tackles darker subject matter. Any reader who reads the synopsis for this novel before reading the book will know that they will be reading a book about suicide. They will know that it's about two teenage girls - one who committed suicide, and the best friend that she left behind. The thing that I really enjoyed about I Was Here was how it was told. It seems like a lot of YA books about suicide are about characters who are feeling depressed and suicidal, but I Was Here is about what it's like to be left behind after someone you love has made the choice to end their life. It's a heartbreaking book, but I think it's an important book, especially for anyone who has ever had a friend or a family member commit suicide.

The book is narrated by Cody, the friend who was essentially left behind when her best friend ended her life. It's really interesting to see all of Cody's thoughts and actions throughout the course of the novel. I can't say that I understand what it's like to lose someone to suicide because I was just a toddler when my uncle took his life, but I feel like reading from Cody's perspective really makes for a personal experience. Cody doesn't understand why Meg committed suicide. They were two peas in a pod; they knew everything about one another, so why didn't Cody know what was going on in Meg's mind in the months prior to her death? Cody's heartbroken. She feels like she should have been there for her best friend. She should have known that Meg was depressed and suicidal. She tries to move on. She goes to the memorials, deals with the small town gossip, and keeps up with her job until Meg's parents ask her to go to Meg's college apartment to collect her possessions. What she discovers on Meg's computer changes everything for Cody.

The characters in I Was Here weren't as amazing as I was expecting, but I felt like they were all very realistic. Forman's decision to include so many characters and social groups really helped establish the plot of the novel. They all serve a different purpose, but I think that they were all needed. (I know I wrote a lot about these characters, but I had a lot to say.)

While reading this novel, readers will meet Cody and her mom, Tricia. It's clear to any reader that these two don't have a typical mother/daughter relationship, and if readers are like me, they will definitely feel for Cody having been raised in such a strange manner. For most of the novel, I didn't know if I liked or hated Tricia for how she treats her daughter, but by the end of the novel, I feel like I respected her. It couldn't have been easy to raise Cody all on her own, and it's nice to see how things work out for this mother/daughter team by the end of the book.

Readers will also meet Meg's family, who basically took Cody in as a child and did the parenting for her when Tricia decided that she had better things to do. Meg's parents are welcoming, even if they are a little overwhelming after Meg's death. Meg also left behind a little brother, and my heart ached for him, but felt relieved during the tender moments that he shared with Cody. It was almost as if Cody took him under her wing and stepped in to be the big sister for him. I teared up during their time together, and it was nice to know that Cody was looking out for him.

There's also a group of characters that readers (and Cody) will meet when Cody goes to Tacoma to collect Meg's belongings. Cody lived in an off-campus apartment, and had some interesting roommates and acquaintances. I really liked some of these characters like Alice, Stoner Richard and Harry. They were just as confused as Cody about Meg's decision. Most of them try to help Cody out while she's there, but a few of them, like Tree, aren't as kind. It takes a few tries, but eventually Cody forms a bond with these characters and learns that she can go to them with questions or for help.

Then there's Ben McCallister. By chance, Cody meets him when she visits a club that Meg used to frequent. She questions him about Meg, and realizes that she is disgusted with him. She wants to blame him for Meg's death, and she initially does. These two have a complicated relationship, and I kind of questioned it just because it seems a bit odd. The two eventually realize that they will need to rely on one another to solve the mystery of Meg's death.

I will say that I felt like there were a lot of loose ends in this novel, which kind of threw me off. I obviously wasn't expecting a magical ending, especially because of the content, but Forman left way too many unanswered questions for my taste. Yes, there is an epilogue, but for everything that happened, those few pages weren't enough. It almost seems like the stuff that happened in the beginning and the middle of the book lost their importance, and that saddened me because there were a few things that I felt like I needed to know before the book ended. 

I Was Here is a book is about older teenagers (college aged), and I liked the YA/NA crossover feel. Even though the content matter is darker, I don't see this being something too, too terrible for readers. However, I do think that older teens would really appreciate and understand everything going on in this novel.

I would recommend this book for fans of Sarah Ockler because of the older YA feel that it has going on. I also think this book would be appropriate for readers who are interested in New Adult titles but not the sexy content. I also think that this book could help people understand mental illnesses and the warning signs that we might miss, and because of that, I would truly recommend this to everyone. 

Gayle Forman is an award-winning, internationally bestselling author and journalist. She is the author of Just One Day and Just One Year, and the companion novella, Just One Night, as well as the New York Times bestsellers If I Stay and Where She Went. She lives in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and daughters.

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