Book Reviews 2015 · Contemporary Books · Young Adult Book Reviews

‘I Was Here’ by Gayle Forman

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.

3.5 Stars (Rounded to 3)

 As a fan of ‘If I Stay’, I had listed Gayle Forman’s book on my list of most anticipated releases for the year. From what I have read (‘If I Stay’ and her contribution in ‘My True Love Gave to Me’) I knew that Forman was a good writer, but none of her other books really appealed to me, being mainly romance-centric. This book caught my attention when I heard about the premise: it actually sounds like it has a captivating story, rather than just romance drivel. Upon finishing, I am a tad disappointed by the book. It wasn’t bad, not at all, it just wasn’t… particularly good. I’d call it pretty average. My attention strayed at times, and there were quite a few things that dissatisfied me, but overall I have to say that I will have probably forgotten my criticism (and indeed the majority of the book) by this time next month.

Let’s start with the main character, Cody. I was hoping for an emotional development from her as we learn more about why her best friend died; given the first person narrative, I was expecting Cody’s discovery of her best friend and herself to be a main focus. In fact, there was no development, or indeed any worthwhile character features, to Cody at all. She was a whiny, selfish and completely insane person who seemed to care more about how she didn’t really know her best friend than that said friend recently killed herself. She lives in this bubble of self-pity where she constantly feels the need to tell us how bad her life is, making it very difficult to sympathise with her situation. Furthermore, she is an extremely prejudiced character, prone to painting everyone else in the book in an undesirable light, both making it hard to connect with them, and very sceptical of everything Cody tells us. What’s more, Cody’s behaviour is borderline idiocy! MINOR SPOILERS She knows that Meg’s suicide was encouraged by an unknown man on the internet, so she sets a trap for him, tracks him down and meets him?!? This girl needs a serious lesson in internet safety! It’s hardly a good insinuation to make.

Not only did I really dislike Cody, but I have to say that I felt for very few of the other characters. Meg sounded like a pretty irritating person, not helped by Cody’s dreadful treatment of anything involving Meg – all we heard of her seemed to be Cody’s complaining that her friend was distanced and never told her anything, and of Meg’s love life, which made me as a reader feel pretty scathing about her. Ben aggravated me immensely. He seemed to have very little of a personality, other than being the typical hot-player-rocker-band-guy-who-everyone-adores, and I hate very few stereotypes more. He was described as having what seemed like a never-ending list of girls who he slept with and then ditched afterwards, which gave me very, very little respect for him. There were characters who I liked (the Garcias, and all of Meg’s university room-mates), however the massive shame here was that Cody never really interacted with them, and so we saw next to nothing of them.

For a story about a young woman coping with a loved one’s suicide, very little of the book actually tackles emotional pain. The bits where we do see Cody rationally grieving for Meg are well done, and the behaviour of Meg’s family was heart-wrenching, but ultimately, Meg’s suicide just felt like a platform for Cody to meet Ben, Meg’s ex and Cody’s love interest. The romance between the pair of them was the main focus of the story, which was not what I signed up to read, and it only angered me further that the romance was unbelievable. Firstly, the pair felt incredibly forced – of course, it was completely believable that Cody (best friend of one of Ben’s prior conquests) would be the one to break his lifelong habit of treating women awfully… And of course it was perfectly fine for Cody to date him knowing that he made her friend miserable… No. Not believable. Also, it referenced the pair having sex, which felt completely out-of-place with the rest of the book that it just stood out as awkward. I wasn’t reading this for romance, but even if I was, I wouldn’t have been convinced by these two.

SPOILERS There was a sub-plot in here about Meg finding her real father, which was a complete let-down of a story. Firstly, it is referenced all of once in the first two-thirds of the book, before we discover that on her way to meet the lunatic off the internet, Cody wants to hunt down her father. A bit sudden, but I’d have rolled with it, had the storyline actually concluded in a satisfactory manner. Cody took one look at him behaving like a thug, cried a bit, used it as leverage for her oh-so-important love life and then took absolutely nothing from it. Was it worthwhile? No.

I did fly through this book, and Forman’s writing was as pleasing as it was in ‘If I Stay’, but I was overall pretty disappointed with this one, and I would have to say that if you want to read  a poignant story about suicide, this book probably isn’t the one for you. If you love bad boy romances, then go ahead.

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One thought on “‘I Was Here’ by Gayle Forman

  1. Lots of good things you pointed out here. I have I Was Here currently from the library, and I need to read it ASAP this week because I can’t renew it. I’ve seen a lot of mixed review of the book. I read If I Stay a few years ago and liked it a reasonable amount, but didn’t love it — although I really liked Gayle Forman’s writing. I guess I’ll read I Was Here knowing it’s not going to blow me away or anything.

    Liked by 1 person

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