Thursday, February 5, 2015

Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman
Release date: January 27th, 2015
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (Penguin)
Length: 288 pages
Source: ARC from the publisher
Rating: Not completely cohesive, but brutal, bleak, and emotional.


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, who broke Meg’s heart. 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.

I wouldn't say this is Forman's finest--I'd give that honor to Where She Went--but the thing about Gayle Forman is her writing is always pretty damn fine. This book is beautifully written and ever so feelsy, but MAN, that was bleak. Somebody get me some fluffy romance stat.

This book, like all of her other books, is emotionally honest and raw and unafraid. While I don't think all the thematic elements came together, and the plot was semi-disjointed and full of strange happenstance, the emotional journey that Cody goes on in the wake of her best friend's sudden suicide is incredibly moving. As she tries to figure out the why of it all, she discovers that there may have been someone who helped push Meg over the edge, and she decides to investigate. The places she goes to find the truth are truly stomach churning. Gayle Forman doesn't shy away from the bleakness or the devastation or the utter hopelessness of the situation she's built.

As you can imagine, that does not make this a particularly light book. It's an absolute wringer. I felt shaky and tired and like curling up in a ball at the end of this, even though there are bright spots of light and hope (Cody's developing, previously struggling relationship with her mom, which I LOVED and wanted even more of) (Cody's relationship with Ben, which I also wanted more from, though I did like it). It's a lot of emotion packed into 288 pages, that's for sure. And, of course, there's Forman's writing, which is straight up beautiful.

I have no idea if her scene will do to Sue what it's doing to me, which is making me remember Meg in such a real visceral way--sleepovers and dance parties and those talks we would have until three in the morning that would make us feel lousy the next day because we'd slept like hell but also feel good because the talks were like blood transfusions, moments of realness and hope that were pinpricks of light in the dark fabric of small-town life.
So I take off my clothes and lie down in Meg's haunted bed, and right now the sheets smelling like her are kind of what I need. I know that by sleeping here, I'll mingle my smell with hers, lessen hers, but somehow that doesn't matter. That's the way it always was before, anyhow.

The relationship between Meg and Cody is the heart of the book and deservedly gets the most attention. They're true best friends, no secrets (or so Cody thought) until Meg moves away to college and a distance grows between them, fueled by Meg's secrets, Cody's jealousy at not being at college as well, and the bleakness of Cody's small town life. But still, when Meg dies, Cody is completely blindsided, because they were so close, and she doesn't quite know what to do with her life. She always saw Meg as the brighter, bigger friend, the person she orbited around, and without her she feels a bit like a Bella Swan-esque "sunless planet".

"Live fast, die young." Everyone romanticizes that notion, and I hate it. I saw a picture of Meg's body from the police report. There is absolutely nothing romantic about dying young

There is nothing romantic about this book or about suicide, and Forman pulls this off perfectly. Yes, it's exhausting to read about total unrelenting bleakness, but it carried the theme well: that suicide is devastating to everyone within reach of it. It's a bomb going off that craters the earth and destroys the lives of everyone it touches, from Meg's parents and brother to best friend to random Seattle guitar players to college roommates with whom she wasn't even that close.

I'm his with a sudden wave of aching nostalgia. I miss [family]. But how can I miss this when I never truly had it in the first place? It was secondhand through Meg. Like pretty much everything else in my life.

"You had a pile of rocks, and you cleaned them up pretty and made a necklace. Meg got jewels, and she hung herself with them."

Cody doesn't just deal with Meg's suicide and searching for the person who caused her to do what she did. She also deals with her own devastated state and figuring out who she is in a post-Meg world, maybe even who she was forcing herself to be when Meg was there.

And then he opens his arms automatically, like hugging is something he does. And I step into them automatically, like being hugged is something I do.

Lastly, there's the romance, which I was conflicted on. On the one hand, I loved it. It was needed in this extremely grim read, even though it was also a storyline rich with emotion and pain and suffering. But it was very strangely...actualized? I'm not sure how to explain it, but it ties into that weird sense I had reading this book, namely that all the action happened very bizarrely. Sort of like...would that happen? Do people do these things? All the emotinal resonance of the book was spot on, but I think I found the actual moments of plot slightly discordant. I'm not sure. Because I still thought this book was beautiful and rough and raw and true, even if the packaging was a leeeeeetle...*insert appropriate word here, I don't know*

If you're a true Gayle Forman fan and/or feel like crying until you shrivel, this is a read for you.

In NON-BLEAK news, Gayle Forman is doing a signing TONIGHT in Pasadena at Vroman's Bookstore, and I will be there! Yay! I get to interview her before her signing, and I'll be live-tweeting the event. So stay tuned for that :)


  1. Suicide themes are pretty popular in YA these days! I'm wary of this one because of all the mixed reviews, but I might still try it out. Anyway, great review! :)
    Kim @ Divergent Gryffindor: BLOG || VLOG

  2. I really can't turn down a chance to read a book that is going to destroy me. I did love some of her other books, so this one seems like fair game. :)

  3. I want to read this now! I like when books are very "bleak" as you say

  4. I love Gayle Forman! Even though I'm a little concerned about not falling in love with this story, I'm still admittedly curious about how she handles such a tough + real issue. Enjoyed reading your thoughts, Gillian!


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