Title: I Was Here
Author: Gayle Forman
Published date: January 2015 by Simon & Schuster Australia
Synopsis (from publisher):
From the bestselling author of If I Stay - this summer's YA blockbuster film.
This characteristically powerful novel follows eighteen-year-old Cody Reynolds in the months following her best friend's shocking suicide.
As Cody numbly searches for answers as to why Meg took her own life, she begins a journey of self-discovery which takes her to a terrifying precipice, and forces her to question not only her relationship with the Meg she thought she knew, but her own understanding of life, love, death and forgiveness.
A phenomenally moving story, I Was Here explores the sadly all-too-familiar issue of suicide and self-harm, addressing it in an authentic way with sensitivity and honesty
I’ve heard only good things about Gayle Forman’s books, specifically for If I Stay, which has been on my TBR list for a few years. It’s one of those books people tend to gush about and even the I Was Here proof copy included If I Stay praise such as: “intensely moving” and “Forman knows how to write emotion”. So I dove into I Was Here—with its very similar sounding name—expecting comparable results. Unfortunately, I was not as enraptured by the tale as I'd hoped to be.
Starting I Was Here after Meg’s suicide means we’re only told of Meg and Cody’s friendship through dialogue and flashbacks. And while we only get a glimpse of Meg, I felt invested in her story, wanting to know more about the girl that had decided to take her own life. I Was Here takes a rather dark turn about a third of the way through and I felt more engaged with the mystery surrounding Meg’s suicide than Cody’s journey through her grief. Why had Meg chosen to take her life? And why had she kept her best friend in the dark about her depression?
Forman has a very distinct style, almost impassive and detached, in I Was Here. This cleverly mimics Cody’s numb response to her best friend’s suicide. It’s clear to the reader that this is just Cody’s coping mechanism, and not related to her close connection to her best friend. We know that Cody is going to eventually break, and when she does, she’ll shatter. Unfortunately though, this distance from her emotions for most of the novel, makes Cody difficult to relate to.
Where Meg leaps off the page, Cody feels too removed from the reader. I understand Forman’s intention by writing Cody this way, as this is the way she was dealing with her grief, however I felt like I needed more of her feelings, to feel immersed in the story. I wanted to cry with Cody. I wanted to get angry with her. Unfortunately, I did neither.
I found I Was Here a difficult book to read. It’s somber and sad and only a little bit uplifting towards the end. There is an element of romance in the book, however it felt unnecessary to the plot and was therefore not as meaningful as it could have been.
Yet there are many important messages in the book, which shouldn’t be overlooked. To me, the most important message is to not treat depression like an ugly secret, something to be hidden from friends and family. Instead, depression should be dealt with openly—and without judgment. I really admire Forman for tackling mental health issues in this way and she navigates the tricky subject matter with care, without shying away from the darker content.
While I Was Here was not the book for me, I would recommend it to those who don’t mind a more quiet, somber tale where the happily ever after is tainted by the often harsh realities of the world.
*Many thanks to Simon & Schuster Australia for the advanced proof.