Friday 23 January 2015

Book Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman.

Product details:
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK.
Paperback, 288 pages.
Release date: January 29th 2015.
Rating:  3½ out of 5.
Ages: 14+
 Source: Received from publisher for review.

 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.

 A new novel from YA Tour de Force Gayle Forman is always a cause for celebration – and high expectation. If I Stay gave all of us all the feels, while Just One Day and Just One Year saw us captivated by the romantic adventure that was Willem and Alyson’s whirlwind love story. With I Was Here, however, Forman has changed track. She’s gone dark. The topic is suicide, and the grief left in its wake. As such, I Was Here is a sometimes bleak read, a book without hope, because the awful thing, the worst thing that could happen, well, it’s already happened.

That said, while I Was Here deals with the most tragic of events – awful, heart-wrenching events, it failed to have an emotional impact on me. Here’s why:

When we first meet Meg she’s already dead; our introduction to her is a suicide note sent via time-delay email to her loved ones – her parents, and her best friend, Cody. By the time Meg’s suicide note is read by Cody, it’s too late.  There’s nothing Cody can do to save her best friend, no way she can turn back time.  Cody is in complete shock, and understandably so. Cody and Meg were like two peas in a pod, so everybody said. They were inseparable. Meg was the leader in their pack of two. And Cody is lost without her. Where does she go now? What does she do? It’s sad, right. I know it is. But it didn’t work for me. Why? Because Meg is already dead. We don’t know her. We’re never going to get to know her. This friendship of her and Cody’s. We don’t see it.  Meg is in the past.  We’re told that she and Cody are best friends, but we never get to see their bond in motion.

And it’s a problem too, because Cody is the focus here, and she’s not a particularly likeable character.  As the friend that got left behind, Cody is angry, and while that’s understandable, as a reading experience, it’s not particularly enjoyable. Cody is angry at everyone, herself included. Cody is sure that had there been signs to Meg’s depression, then she would have seen them. As Meg’s best friend, how could she not have seen this coming?  Cody is convinced that there’s more to Meg’s death that meets the eye: and when she finds an encrypted file on Meg’s computer – she’s sure she’s found the key to the answer she so needs.

Cody’s search to find the truth about Meg’s death leads her on a road trip, where she’s accompanied by Ben McAllister, a beautiful guitar-playing boy who dumped Meg after a one-night-stand and broke her heart. Cody thinks Ben is a jerk, and she treats him accordingly, but as they delve into the mystery of Meg’s suicide, they find themselves inexplicably drawn to each other. You know where this is going, right?

As a study of the aftermath and impact of suicide and the grief and confusion that abounds, I Was Here hits the right notes. And as always, Forman’s writing is just lovely to read: her writing –always worth reading- is maybe the reason I’m rating this book a 3.5 instead of a 3.  The story of I Was Here, though really doesn’t break any barriers; its tropes are little tired, especially the road trip and ensuing Cody/Ben insta-romance that has been done so often before, and better than here. This, coupled with characters and relationships that I felt were lacklustre and even a little bland at times, means that I’m not recommending I Was Here as a must read. 

If you’ve enjoyed Forman’s previous novels, then I say give this one a go. It’s definitely not the best I’ve read from her though, lacking the originality, wonderfully drawn characters and emotional punch we’ve come to expect from this much lauded author.

Gayle Forman Must-Read: If I Stay.


  1. ChristinaBookAddict23 January 2015 at 12:36

    Thanks for the honest review, Leanna. I've been curious about this book. I'm not sure she can top If I Stay…definitely my favorite of hers. I sort of been avoiding this book, because of the suicide. I have been reading so many depressing books lately and I think I need to be in the right frame of mind for this one. I'm glad to hear here writing is still excellent though.

  2. I don't think any of her books have really come close to If I Stay for me. With Just One Day I liked the time spent in Paris, but Alyson just annoyed me. This wasn't an emotional/depressing read for me at all - even though the subject matter is bleak. Just didn't really work for me.

  3. Thanks for your thorough review! I actually haven't read any of Forman's books, but I think honest explorations of mental health issues and suicide can be really rich and important. I'll have to check this one out!

  4. Vickie Snider Hartwell25 January 2015 at 04:39

    This is in my too be read list already!! I can't wait to read it!!!

  5. Lovely review, Leanna. I have this for review and I am looking forward to reading it despite the fact that Gayle's books are never quite as emotional for me as others though I do still enjoy them. Hoping the darkness in this book will actually pull me more into the story rather than feeling disconnected.

  6. Hope you enjoy it. This deals more with the aftermath/effect of suicide on those left behind than on the mental health issues of Meg, though they are touch upon too.

  7. Maybe I'm just hard to please, but this all felt a little 'meh' for me. Maybe I just don't have a heart?! ;)

  8. kirstymariejonesstudioreads26 January 2015 at 17:24

    I liked it a lot better, maybe because I haven't read any of her others? I'll probably feel different when I do, but then again, I seem to always love the first book I've read from an author. Agree with you, we didn't get to see the friendship, it was pretty void bar a few things, but I loved the relationship she had with Meg's parents, and brother. I got Cody more, yeah, she's not entirely likeable because she is angry, and she does feel guilty, but I think she felt more betrayed and hates Meg for that, and then that comes back to the anger part, because who can hate somebody that's dead? It's a cycle. But, I read this though I always wanted to read If I Stay first, but avoided it because I thought it would be so emotional (but I thought this would be more emotional too) so probably will give it a try soon. :)

  9. I am like that too re: liking the first book I read from authors! I go into every Gayle Forman book with pretty high expectations and while I thought this was still pretty good it's not a favourite of mine. Also, the (very insta) relationship between Ben and Cody just didn't really work for me. I loved If I Stay when I read it. Might re-read at some point to see if I like it just as much!


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