Title: I Was Here
Author: Gayle Forman (Just One Day)
Genre: Contemporary/New Adult
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
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.
At first, I didn’t even put this book on my to-read shelf after I got tired of hearing about all the hype over Gayle Forman, even though I really did love If I Stay and Where She Went, as well as Just One Day (I didn’t bother with Just One Year, though, because I wasn’t a fan of Willem). The summary got to me, though, and I knew I had to read this book. I Was Here definitely wasn’t my favorite Forman book, but I did enjoy it for the most part.
The beginning started off a bit rocky for me. Cody isn’t the most likeable person – she can be quite judgmental of her small town and the many people she sees as beneath her, especially her mother, whom she always calls Tricia (which was apparently her mother’s doing – she thought she was too young to be called Mom or something). Cody is obviously very affected by the death of her best friend, especially the fact that she didn’t see it coming at all, so she’s not in the best place at the beginning. As a result, the story is a little aimless at that point, because Cody is aimless at the beginning.
The plot finally kicks in when Cody begins digging into Meg’s death. She starts to realize that there’s more to it than Meg suddenly deciding that she didn’t want to live one day, and that she might have been communicating with people who actively encouraged her to end her life. Getting a look at a forum where people encourage each other to end their lives, and help them do everything that comes with it, was terrifying and chilling, but I’m sure that Forman didn’t make up any of it.
Even by the end, I don’t think I really liked Cody, but she definitely seemed to grow on me and I think I sympathized her character more. The characters I cared more about, like Meg’s little brother and one of her former roommates, unfortunately weren’t as fleshed out as much as I liked, mainly because they didn’t have the more prominent roles that I would have liked. This is Cody’s story, and Meg’s story by extension, but I think Forman missed an opportunity to flesh out interesting secondary characters.
Meg and her brother are biracial, if I recall – their father is Mexican, I think, and their Mexican heritage seemed like it played at least a little part in their upbringing, but this is mostly a story about white people. Cody is poor and has to actively work for things she wants, and her poverty seemed pretty accurate – for example, she and her mother can’t afford internet, so Cody is subject to the hours of the local library if she wants internet access, which was great to see – but there wasn’t a lot of racial diversity. Mental illness also played a bit of a role (obviously, since Meg committed suicide), but not as big a role as it could have.
The Adult Situation
This is actually a new adult book – Meg was away at college when she committed suicide, while Cody is attending the local community college since she can’t afford a state school – and, as a result, there isn’t a big adult presence. Cody pays for half the rent with the relatively full-time job she has, while Meg had the freedom of being away at college. It isn’t until the end that Cody’s mom plays a bigger role – otherwise, she seems to mostly exist as someone for Cody to look down on, which was a bit unfortunate.
I didn’t really care all that much for the romance. I kept flip-flopping on whether Forman was even going to go there with the romance – the love interest is someone from Meg’s past, and people are always trying to push Cody away from him, but then he would get some nice moments. Those little nice moments weren’t enough for me to really like him, though, especially since it seemed like the romance was merely a relationship between two broken people who needed some time to heal on their own before moving into a relationship with anyone, let alone with each other.
By the end of the story, I was enjoying it for the most part (well, as much as I can enjoy a book about a best friend who committed suicide), but I think the romance soured the ending slightly for me, which is really a shame.
I know I complained about quite a few things, but I really did enjoy myself for the most part as I was reading this book. It’s certainly not my favorite Forman book, but it gives me hope that I can enjoy her books without paying too much attention to all the hype around her. And I really loved the author’s note at the end about the girl who inspired this story, which in turn made the story that I had just finished seem more interesting and personal, if that makes sense.