I Was Here by Gayle Forman ( web | twitter )
Published January 27, 2015 by Penguin/Viking Books
Target audience: Young adult
Keywords: post-high school, secrets, suicide, mystery, class
Format read: ARC borrowed from Alex. (Thanks!)
Summary: Cody is shocked to receive an email from her best friend, Meg, telling her that she has committed suicide. The Meg she has loved forever would never do something like this. Filled with grief she doesn’t know what to do with, Cody sets forth to get to the bottom of Meg’s mysterious death and stumbles upon some hard truths.
What do you say about a book that is beautifully, honestly written and addictive but doesn’t hit the mark?
I’m not sure but I’m going to try.
I’m a huge fan of Gayle Forman’s writing. Her Just One Day and Just One Year are two of the best books I’ve ever read in my almost 30 years. For me, those books stand out of her canon because they are all about balance. Yes, they are driven by attraction and maybe love but it’s also about growing pains, discovering yourself, and your relationships with the many people around you from your parents to your best friend to the stranger you let into your life. If I tried to pinpoint why I Was Here doesn’t rank as high for me as these two, I could say it was about the balance.
Cody is mystified when she receives an email from her best friend the day after she commits suicide. How could someone as vivacious as Meg end her life? And more importantly, how could she even be thinking about this precisely planned suicide without saying anything to Cody? Forman quickly delves us into the complex feelings associated with a death like this one. There is the despair and disbelief but there is also the selfish side. How could they leave me?
At first, Cody is prepared to go to Meg’s apartment and pack up her things (as a favor to the Garcia’s, who have always been a family to Cody) and try to move on. But something is nagging Cody. Meg’s note was a little strange, even her little brother notices. Did someone force Meg to do this? Suddenly, Cody finds herself jumping into this mystery by reading Meg’s emails, meeting her friends in Seattle (Alice, Robert, and Harry were GREAT), and trying to figure out what was going on in her head. It’s difficult to realize your best friend has qualities and tendencies you never knew about but an entire new life in a new city? It seems the girls are being pulled even farther apart as Cody throws herself down this rabbit hole.
The rabbit hole leads her to Ben, a boy that was friends with Meg. Cody is hardwired to be independent, in a way that means brushing off help from others all the time. But Ben really knew Meg, even if they weren’t on the best terms in the end, and Cody can’t help but let him take part in whatever she is trying to do. She seems to be taken with him, and he seems to be surprised by her but there is so much fucked up complication here, at times I didn’t know what to think. This is one of the parts of the book where I needed more. I was so wrapped up in Cody’s detective skills that the chemistry between these two was a little rushed and lukewarm especially because Ben felt like a caricature of Forman’s past male characters and not his own person.
I Was Here is a tough story for many reasons but one of them is that readers only meet Meg in flashbacks. Forman always does this amazing job of presenting these tiny nuances in human relationships that so many other authors pass over, and it helps us to better understand these characters but, at times, it was hard to really feel the connection between Cody and Meg. Maybe this is because Cody was struggling with it too. She hadn’t imagined she would be separated from Meg when they graduated high school but plans changed and that distances was, in fact, inevitable. The opportunity of getting over those weird transition conflicts was cut short, and, perhaps, that is the most heartbreaking part of all.
All in all, this book presented the darker, edgier side of Forman that I love. All of her characters have this inner badass and act as imperfect humans do — a plus. But another 100 pages and a departure from a few overused young adult troupes would have made this a whole other ballgame.