Also by this author: If I Stay, If I Stay, Just One Night, I Was Here
Published by Penguin Group USA, VIKING on 2015-01-27
Genres: Friendship, Mysteries & Detective Stories, Social Issues, Suicide, Young Adult
Source: Won In A Contest
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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, 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.
When you open up a Gayle Forman book, you know that you’re about to experience something special and perhaps after reading, something inside of you will shift just a little bit. I’ve read all of Forman’s books so far except for Sisters In Sanity, but fear not, I will read that one some day too. I Was Here is Forman’s latest offering to the young adult genre and it is a brilliant contribution. Forman’s latest book is just as serious as her previous books, but somehow feels a bit different. It feels a little more mature. It’s a book that did not make me sob, but one where I felt intensely connected to the characters and the storyline. I think I actually connected more to I Was Here than to Forman’s other books, which matters because I’ll be honest and say that I have connected quite deeply with her other books.
I Was Here is a book that deals with the aftermath of a suicide, which is a hugely important topic. It’s timely too. I live in a town where a suicide prevention coalition has been formed and is just starting to get off the ground. So, the subject matter of Forman’s book really peaked my interested. Cody and Meg have been best friends for pretty much forever. Meg is older than Cody. She is brilliant and beautiful and just so full of life. Cody, on the other hand, is a little bit lost compared to Meg. She doesn’t have her ducks all in a row or her life together like Meg does. When Meg leaves their small town to go away to college in Tacoma, the two begin to pull apart in their friendship. Cody receives a HUGE blow when it is discovered that Meg has died by suicide. Cody, who is still close to Meg’s parents and brother, offers to go to Meg’s apartment in Seattle and pack up her things to send back. There, she discovers that Meg had a whole other life. She also discovers a boy, Ben.
What I love about this book more than Forman’s other books is that these characters are not economically privileged. I feel like I can actually relate to them. Cody graduates from high school and works various housekeeping jobs — so she pretty much cleans people’s homes for a living. She’s mostly fine with this. Her life isn’t on the bright track that Meg’s life was on. Don’t mistake Cody’s menial job for her being stupid though, she’s actually quite the smart girl and proves this over and over again with her suspicions regarding Meg’s death. You’ll see when you read the book. I have to say, I also loved how prickly Cody was. She’s not the sort of girl who still smiles when she is sad and that’s great. She owns her emotions. That stated, like a real person, Cody definitely has her walls and her guard up. I can’t say as I blame Cody, given her non-traditional family dynamic. She lives alone with her bartender mother, Trish. Trish is not at all a Lorelai Gilmore. She’s not the warm and fuzzy sort of mom. But, the way she is with Cody goes a long way toward explaining Cody’s behaviors and actions.
I’ll admit to feeling kind of like a black sheep when I say that I disliked some of the romance in I Was Here. I mean, Cody and Ben fall for each other relatively quickly and it’s such a complicated romance and my brain is going this can’t possibly work the whole entire time while I am reading. Yet, Forman works her magic and in the hands of a lesser author, I would have felt an intense dislike for the romance and probably would not have come around in my feelings. With this book, I was eventually mostly won over by the romance, because you honestly can’t control life and when love happens. I thought this book did a great job illustrating that sometimes who you fall for and when you fall for them is not exactly a choice.
As for the writing, it is probably not a mystery to you all that I loved it. I simply swallowed up and devoured I Was Here. There’s so many elements of the writing that I loved. First of all, the setting. This book is set in Washington State. You get this sense of poverty and vast distances and small town mentality from the writing. As an East Coast, upstate NY girl, it was an experience to escape into the Northwest where it takes forever to drive places and where not everyone goes to college after high school. Also? After reading this book I really want to visit Seattle. I loved how Forman wrote the family dynamics in this book, not because they dynamics are perfect — they are not — but because the way the families are drawn are complex. Cody has this sense of cynicism about her own family and she can’t help but compare that to Meg’s family which seems so perfect from the outside looking in. Her parents are genuinely nice and good people, yet they are not perfect. What makes Forman’s writing perfect and on point is how she brings Cody to the realization that Meg’s family isn’t perfect and that Meg, herself, was not perfect. Not only are we on an actual physical journey during the book, but it’s like Cody is on a character development journey and it’s amazing to see her come of age as she comes to some very adult realizations. I think that this book really has heart, even if it is wrapped up in a prickly sort of package.