I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I Was Here by Gayle Forman
I Was Here by Gayle Forman
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Genre: Contemporary
Length: Full (277 pgs)
Age Recommendation: 16+
Rating: 3.5 stars
Review by: Cactus

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.

“How do you live without the sun?” That’s the question Cody is asking herself when her best friend Meg commits suicide by drinking poison in a lonely motel room.

Meg had thought of everything down to the time delayed email to family and authorities as well as the extra tip for the cleaning lady. Cody can’t believe Meg never said anything and soon discovers that she knew very little about Meg’s life in Tacoma after Meg left for college. Inseparable from kindergarten, the two friends always planned to move to Seattle and live an extraordinary life together. Yet the lack of scholarships for Cody meant she stayed in their hometown cleaning toilets and occasionally attending community college while Meg went on to a full scholarship at college. That distance is immediate and heartbreaking. Before the two friends can figure out how to readjust to their new reality, Meg kills herself and leaves Cody reeling and devastated. Determined to figure out what was going on in Meg’s life and mind, Cody plunges herself into the details of Meg’s life.

I Was Here is a slow moving story told from Cody’s first person perspective. I personally didn’t mind the slower pace as I feel most contemporary fiction stories are similar. There is a lot of reflection and internal monologue interspersed with details of daily life. While this isn’t problematic, the lack of character development is. Cody and Meg are the central characters but it’s hard to get a real grasp on their personalities. As the reader, we never see exactly who Meg was but instead Cody just reiterates to herself, others, and the reader that Meg was amazing, brilliant, beautiful, transcendent. We’re told these things over and over just as we’re told how Cody feels about absolutely everything. Cody has a lot of complex and contradictory feelings, as befitting an eighteen year old and she struggles mightily with those emotions. Cody repeatedly takes out her feelings of jealousy, insecurity, deep seated anger, and helplessness on those around her. She punishes people for her own failings and while this is a genuine and often characteristic trait of teenagers, it’s not endearing. It’s difficult to connect to such a character and even more difficult to care about the dead character that we’re only told about from Cody’s perspective. I highly doubt she was the second coming as Cody seems to think so it’s hard to really connect with either protagonist.

The writing is very evocative though and I think interesting so that helped me get over any qualms I had about the characters. There are a few hot topics that could bother readers even if they didn’t bother me however. First is the obvious topic of suicide and depression but also the inclusion of a support group that encourages suicide. Additionally Cody engages in a relationship with a character that Meg had been obsessed with and even slept with once. While I found the romance between Cody and Ben to be organic and reasonable, considering Meg had been there before Cody, some won’t agree. I just remember they are young teenagers still figuring their life and relationships out and Ben was never interested in Meg. Furthermore Cody’s actions towards the end of the book may cause readers some problems. Without giving spoilers, Cody acts in a very rash and dangerous way that should be a warning of what NOT to do. It’s concerning that the adults in Cody’s life weren’t more worried and upset about what Cody did.

That said, I think I Was Here is in many ways a typical young adult novel filled with teen angst, drama, and a search for meaning in life. It’s a story of how one girl copes with grief, confusion, need, and a host of confusing emotions while trying to grow up herself. Cody is not a perfect character but I think she isn’t supposed to be. I think she has relatable flaws that will appeal to readers, even if I wish she didn’t have quite so many. I found the audiobook easy to listen to despite my reservations and it is a book I’d recommend as long as readers aren’t turned off by some of the hot button issues included.

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