Buy I Was Here
Special price $15.27 Regular price: $18.99
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Reviewer: Melissa on May 26, 2015
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Cody and Meg used to be inseparable…until one day they weren’t. When Cody’s best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, she is understandably devastated. She and Meg shared everything – so how was there no warning? However, when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up her belongings, she discovers that there is a lot Meg never told her. In Gayle Forman’s I Was Here, Cody learns about Meg’s old roommates, the kind of people who Cody would never have met in her dead-end Washington town. About Ben McCallister, the boy who plays guitar, wears a sneer, and has some secrets of his own. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open…until she can, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.
Here’s the thing: I’ve read a lot of YA novels with depression and suicide as major subjects. When I started YABookShelf.com and realized that there were several books with teens dealing with these experiences, I sought them out. They were the kind of novels that I wish had been available when I was 15, 16, 17, etc. and trying to learn how to live without someone I’d looked up to for 15 years. I even curated a Suicide Awareness Week series with reviews, guest posts, book lists, giveaways, and commentaries that spoke about or featured these topics. But despite all of this reading, I’ve never read anything like I Was Here, a book that differs not only from other books about suicide, but also a bit from the other books by Forman that I’ve previously read, including: If I Stay, Where She Went, Just One Day, Just One Year, and Just One Night.
Don’t get me wrong – I loved each of these earlier novels and so did a lot of other readers. I’ll also admit that I Was Here is, in many ways, a harder book to read than the other ones, which means that it’s not surprising that not all of her long time readers will love this one. I’ve read some reviews on Goodreads who said that they don’t generally like books about suicide and thus, partly for this reason, they found it disappointing. However, personally, I’m so glad that she wrote this book. I’m so glad that she took on a subject and tone that differs from the swoony quality that readers have come to expect from this author. I’m so glad that she’s giving a voice to the people who have been left to pick up the pieces after someone they care about commits suicide through Cody, in particular, but also Meg’s parents, her college roommates who didn’t really know Meg very well, and Ben, a guy with whom Meg was, briefly, involved. It was eye-opening to me how even people, like Meg’s roommate Harry, expressed regret that he didn’t get a chance to know her better once he realized they had things in common. If anything could show that one life, one death has far-reaching consequences in the lives of others, it’s I Was Here.
Beyond the realistic way that Forman develops Cody’s emotional journey through grief, the way she told the story is just as important as the fact that she chose to tell it at all. At the beginning of this novel, Cody feels like she didn’t know Meg because the friend she knew would never have taken her own life. She says she doesn’t understand because they told each other everything early on, but anyone reading closely will see that even Cody hid things from Meg. Now to deal with the loss she feels, Cody starts both a literal and metaphoric journey into understanding who her friend really was, hoping to answer the question that everyone who has survived a loved one’s suicide asks, “Why’d she do it?” Cody follows the breadcrumbs Meg left: the emails she sent, the ones she erased, and most importantly for this novel, the websites she frequented. Cody’s sleuthing ways make this a very different book from any other contemporary YA novel about suicide that I’ve read, but they also transform Cody from a teen who doesn’t have any friends left to one who is part of a solid community and prove that Cody will do whatever it takes to get to the bottom of this mystery, even if it means that she has to stop lying to herself about her own issues with depression and what her relationship with Meg was really like.
While there is much more that I could say about I Was Here, I’m going to leave it at this: please go and pick up this book that deals with depression and suicide in a sensitive and unique way.
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