Title: I Was Here
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: January 27, 2015
I’ve been excited about reading this book for weeks and weeks, ever since I saw the twitter campaign for it online. And I’ve loved Gayle Forman’s previous works, If I Stay being one of the romantic staples of YA lit ever since I read it years ago. However, this one let me down.
Before I get around to why, here’s a brief summary from Gayle Forman’s website:
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, and some secrets of his own. 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.
This suicide, unlike the other suicide-focused YA books I’ve read and reviewed recently, is more a mystery than anything else. Cody tries to understand why her best friend killed herself – what exactly led to that? And (mini-spoiler, though you find this out fairly early in the book): one thing that contributed was Meg’s participation in a pro-suicide forum of sorts online. Cody, then, makes it her mission to track down the person who she believes talked Meg into killing herself online. An interesting take, and one that I didn’t anticipate (mini-spoiler over).
So the mystery aspect of the book was great, as was Cody’s realistic emotional trauma over losing her best friend. Anyone who’s lost someone close to them unexpectedly would be able to relate with a lot of what Cody goes through in the novel. Although I do have to say that if you have any sense of foreshadowing at all, you can tell almost immediately the “reveal” at the end of the novel. Authors don’t mention things for no reason, and the hints were all laid out for the reader almost obnoxiously.
But what was really annoying was the introduction of a romantic angle – I was 100% thrown off by the unrealistic, unnecessary love interest. Ben and Cody have no chemistry, and their relationship makes zero sense. I understand that Gayle Forman is a romance writer, but also I’d like to see a book where romance isn’t unnecessarily thrown into the mix just for the heck of it. Without the awkward love addition, this book would have been way better. Even if Ben and Cody were just friends, his character would have accomplished the same purpose. An appropriate tweet from my fav, @BroodingYAHero:
You could go to grief counseling to recover from your loved one’s death…or you could let me show you what it means to be alive.
— Brooding YA Hero (@broodingYAhero) March 11, 2015
I am still left with a residual sense of confusion about my feelings for I Was Here. It was an interesting enough read, and I still like Forman’s writing style, but overall I think my annoyances outweighed the positive aspects of the novel, so much so that I can’t even tell what kind of reader I’d recommend this book to.
3 out of 5 stars.