I Was Here: Review

February 5, 2015 2 star books, 2015, contemporary, Gayle Forman, Kim, mature themes 39 ★★

I Was Here: ReviewI Was Here by gayle forman
Published by Viking on January 27, 2015
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 288
Format: Hardcover
Source: Borrowed
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two-stars
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’m not really a contemporary person, but I am very much a Gayle Forman person. With that said, I’m not sure anyone could be more disappointed than I am that I did not love this book. Forman’s prose and storytelling talent have shown me the heights of what contemporary can achieve in her previous duologies. I do think, honestly, that she is near peerless within her genre. So what left me so cold about her most recent release?

A thing with me is that books take on their own “color” and mood. The experience of reading this book felt just like being under a constant cover of gray skies. There was so little in the way of hope or optimism. Which is fine, I suppose. But even if you’re going to stick readers with difficult emotions there should at least be some sort of catharsis. Unfortunately, even that fell through.

The synopsis of this book sort of/almost bills this as an investigation into “What really happened to Meg?” As if Cody will find out through her sleuthing skills, and hacking into Meg’s protected files, what actually drove Meg to commit suicide. As if there is a greater answer than, “Meg was suffering from a disease.” But the book really isn’t about any sort of mystery. It’s about Cody. And what she’s left with after she so unexpectedly loses Meg.

One of the biggest problems I had with the novel is that we are dropped into the story after Meg’s suicide. The reader never has a chance to know Meg except through Cody’s recollections which are far too few and between for my taste. Cody reminisces about Meg, and reflects on their history and friendship. We are told things about Meg but it is never truly felt, it’s never shown. The flashbacks that were so skillfully employed in If I Stay are gone here. It is a completely different narrative style and not one that serves the story.

Additionally, being in Cody’s head just isn’t a pleasant place to be. While this is understandable, considering she is a grieving and vulnerable teen, there were so many caustic and bitter aspects that I couldn’t abide. Cody’s not had an easy time of things, coming from a lower class upbringing and a mom who, for all appearances, could care less. She consistently refers to herself as “white trash,” is pessimistic, angry, bitter, and cynical about pretty much all things. Again, I understand that this an understandable place for a person to be after the suicide of a loved one. It does not make the book any more palatable of a read.

There is an overall failure of bringing depth to the characters. At least there’s no depth like there was in Forman’s previous novels. There’s not much to Cody beyond who she is as defined by Meg. There isn’t much to any of the other main characters in Cody’s life. There is an incredible sense of bleakness that emerges from Cody’s description of her Pacific West small town that feels creeping and inescapable. I didn’t want it to come off the page which is both a testament to how well Gayle Forman can write and also how much the world she’s created is an unpleasant and undesirable place to be.

As the synopsis alludes to, there is somewhat of a “mystery” element to this story. Cody delves into the world of online suicide boards. It’s a heavy thing and she does treat it with appropriate seriousness. But the place she was willing to go with this story was further than I was willing to go. View Spoiler »

And, oh my goodness, let’s not get me started on the romance. I cannot recall ever wishing a book did not have a romantic element. I wish this book did not have a romantic element. One guess as to how Cody meets this “romantic lead.” Yes, that’s right. She finds him through Meg’s cyber trail. This guy was a “friend” of Meg’s who ditched her after they slept together. He’s a bad boy musician who Cody can’t deny but feel the tension with immediately after they meet. Excuse me, but I’m gagging.

Admittedly, at some point Cody says that it is “fucked up” that they like each other but it doesn’t do much by way of an explanation. They barely spend any time together. And although their connection (a dead woman) is emotionally charged, it doesn’t excuse the fact that he appears to be a terrible person, and also they barely spend any time together in the book. Finally they take a road trip, where even more cliche things happen like View Spoiler » but it is without emotional victory or redemption.

Usually, if anyone can pull off cliches it’s Gayle Forman. In Just One Day (a book I LOVE), Allyson and Willem fall for each in such a ludicrously short period of time yet she makes it believable and effortless. What a feat. It is just so sadly not the case here.

I will say, though, that I did appreciate the way the novel shows that we can be blind to the emotional or mental health needs of even those who are closest to us. Obviously a suicide is never anyone’s fault. But there is a danger in being in denial of what is going on with those close to us. It is good to be familiar with the symptoms of depression.

I wish I had felt more positively about this book. I wish this was a different book. Forman has a gift for creating incredibly human characters. You want to love them. You want to love a Gayle Forman novel. I didn’t feel any of that gift in the main characters presented in this story. Perhaps this book just fell victim to over expectation. Ms. Forman obviously has some big boots to fill with every release now. I don’t envy her. Here’s hoping the next release goes better for us all.

 

kim teal

 

 

 

 

 

 

39 Responses to “I Was Here: Review”

  1. Marianne @ Boricuan Bookworms

    Completely agree with you. I finished this yesterday and just felt… disappointed. Nothing felt quite real, and nothing much happened. I wanted to end the book right then and there when the thing between Ben and Cody happened. I just couldn’t find it believable at all. I liked it just slightly more than you did because I was listening to the audio and the narrator made Cody sound more alive , but other than that, it’s definitely not my favorite Gayle Forman book.

    Great review!

    • Kim

      No, nothing much happens at all. It’s all so bleak and so blah. And then we get to the end where she does that absurd confrontation and then the Ben and Cody hookup. For real? Really? So out of place, and, honestly, inappropriate in the context of the story. Perhaps I would’ve been better off with the audio as well. As it was, on the page Cody just doesn’t stand out. Bummer. Hopefully the next Gayle Forman will work a lot better for the both of us!
      Kim recently posted…Red Queen: Review

  2. Jacklin Updegraft

    I’ve only read If I Stay but I have to say that Gayle has an amazing way of writing books! I was considering reading this book but your review has me thinking maybe I’ll skip it!

    • Kim

      Oh man, I feel like I could swim in Gayle’s words they’re so gorgeous. That’s why this one was such a disappoint. I mean, if you like books with a darker or bleak tone I say this one is still worth checking out. It is Gayle after all. Just know that it’s a lot different than her previous works.
      Kim recently posted…Red Queen: Review

      • Jacklin Updegraft

        Right she really is an amazing writer! That’s why I have a hard time reading this one because it is a darker book and I tend to stay away from those ones!

  3. kayla keefer

    I have never read any of Gayle Forman’s books but she is another author I have heard amazing things about

  4. kayla keefer

    I have never read any of Gayle Forman’s books but she is another author I have heard amazing things about so eventually I want to get to read some of her work especially If I stay!

  5. Katie @ Spirit of Children's Literature

    Kim,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts about I Was Here. I loved Forman’s other books–I’ve only read If I Stay and Where She Went, but I had high hopes for this new one. I think I’m still going to read it, but I’m disappointed it doesn’t reach the same heights as her other ones. It’s puzzling that she didn’t employ flashbacks the same way she did in If I Stay. I’m cringing at the thought of the romance–it sounds like the story could have done without it. I’m all for books that show realistic depictions of young people dealing with the aftermath of a suicide, but I’m all for hope in them as well!
    Katie @ Spirit of Children’s Literature recently posted…I Mustache You Some Questions

    • Kim

      I suppose she was branching out and trying new techniques-or thought that the story would be better served through passive memory rather than active flashback. But I disagree! Oh well. I might’ve been harsher here than I am normally inclined to be because I have such expectations of Gayle Forman. I guess the darker style just doesn’t work for me. And ugggghhh the “romance” which is barely a romance. Honestly, they don’t interact that much and it is very unclear why they’re attracted to each other. The chemistry that’s so present in her other works is absent here. What a bummer.
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  6. Kate @ Ex Libris

    I have read if I Stay/Where She Went and while I agree that this is a very different book, I kind of liked that it was a very different book. It was definitely darker than I was expecting, but it was dealing with a very dark subject. I was perplexed as to why there was an implication that this might be a thriller because it was obvious to me that this quest to find out WHY was really just Cody’s quest for acceptance. At least that’s how it felt to me. I agree about the romance. It didn’t bother me, necessarily, but if a story would be ok without the romance, why have it?

    Thanks for the very thoughtful review!

    • Kim

      I might have been a bit less patient with this book because I was expecting that thriller/mystery aspect and it just isn’t there. Which isn’t the book’s fault, rather it’s the copy’s. Still, this sort of dark and cloudy read just isn’t a Kim Book. But I am very glad it was a Kate Book! Also, I have to say it flabbergasts me to find a book where I actually wanted less romance-I always want more! Gah. So frustrating. Still, I’m very glad you liked this one! I’m much happier when a book finds its home in the right hearts.
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  7. julie@m5monkeys

    OMG these are some of my thoughts too about this book. I really wanted to love it , and I didn’t want a romance in this book too. Nodding my head in agreement over this book. I have enjoyed her other books and she is still an auto read author for me …but I might wait a bit longer for her next book.
    julie@m5monkeys recently posted…Books I want to read ( Cover Lusting)

    • Kim

      I think (hope?) that this was just some weird limb that Gayle Forman wanted to go out on? Like you I’ll still be crazy anticipating what she writes next (pleeeeeeease don’t turn this book into a duology. Look to your next project, Gayle! ) with perhaps just a bit of dimness to the previous fervor I would’ve felt. Fingers crossed for us both that we have better luck next time.

  8. Jessica @ Rabid Reads

    *grimaces* Don’t hate me for saying this (b/c now I’m considering giving it another shot), but I didn’t even consider getting this book, b/c despite my adoration of If I Stay and Where She Went . . . I was a bit bored with Just One Day. *cowers* I’m sorry! Maybe it was just my mood at the time, but anyway, I wasn’t interested in this one. And I’m glad. B/c it sounds awful. And reckless. And melancholy. And as far as reading goes, I can’t imagine many worse things than a book that “felt just like being under a constant cover of gray skies.” I dated a guy like that once. It didn’t end well. SO. Sorry for the disappointment, but you convinced me to pick Just One Day back up, so that’s something, right? ;)
    Jessica @ Rabid Reads recently posted…Review: California Bones by Greg Van Eekhout

    • Kim

      Oh, Jessica. No! I could never hate you! (I mean, maaayyyybe if you were like, “Wow, those Throne of Glass books are awful and no good and just a waste of time. But we know that would never happen. :p ) Even when you admit to not liking JUST ONE DAY. Promise.

      And, I mean, the strongest thing this book has going for it is that it’s a Gayle Forman novel. If her other works haven’t swayed you it’s super doubtful this one will be the book for you. I do regret to say it. It’s just such a…weird novel. Gloomy and pitched as a sort of thriller/mystery but not even a little bit either one of those things.

      YAY! I’m so glad to hear about this silver lining, though! The thing about JUST ONE DAY is that I just very strongly identified with Allyson. I’m a total “scaredy cat, afraid of taking any risks but craving adventure” type. I just loved getting to live vicariously through her. I hope next it goes better for you. *crosses fingers*
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  9. Jasprit

    I’m sorry that you weren’t able to enjoy this one as much as you’d hoped Kim, like you I’m a huge fan of Forman’s work, with Just One Day and Where She Went being some of my favourite reads ever. And whilst I did enjoy this one, I think it did pale in comparison to her previous books. Thanks for the honest review, I hope you end up enjoying your next Forman read a whole lot more!
    Jasprit recently posted…Review: Conspiracy Girl by Sarah Alderson

    • Kim

      Eeee! Those are my two favorite Forman’s as well. I’ve heard from several folks, even those like you who still really liked this one, that it’s their least favorite of her novels. It has such a different tone and feel. I think it just, unfortunately, hit exactly all the wrong notes on a contemporary for me. I’m not huge into the genre to begin with, and I usually need a good deal of levity, even in the more serious books. This one was just overall too unpleasant and heavy for me. So sad! I’m so glad you liked it more than I did, though! I’m happy to know this book has its audience.
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  10. Nikki

    Hmmm, I’m actually usually a fan of pessimistic and sad lit but even this sounds too far out of my zone.

    • Kim

      Hey, maybe not? You never know. Because this *really* isn’t in my zone. Perhaps it’s more to the tune of those who like pessimistic/gloomy contemporaries. I am just definitely not one of those people, though! Maybe I should’ve known better. If this book was by anyone other than Gayle Forman I wouldn’t’ve even been tempted. At the very least you can always library it–it could end up being much more to your liking than mine!
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

    • Kim

      Ugh, Danielle. I couldn’t stand it. I mean, it is very much understandable why she is so angry and caustic. But man does it not make for a fun experience. You get the sense that even before the loss of her friend Cody was embittered and resentful. The events of this book just make it all the more unpalatable. Bah.
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  11. Pili

    I still haven’t read anything by Gayle Forman, and clearly after your review this one won’t be my first book by her that I’ll be reading.
    Sounds like the romance would be rather cringe worthy and something that would irritate me for sure! =/
    Thank you for your very honest opinion Kim! As a not-usually-big-on-contemporaries kinda reader than I am…
    Pili recently posted…Waiting On Wednesday #80!!

    • Kim

      Pili, this is downright shocking! (I mean, I’m not sure why it’s so shocking since, Confession: I binged all of the previous GF books just last summer). But I will continue to act shocked, I suppose, in attempt to shame you into reading them! :p

      Ugh, the “romance” was awful, Pili. Awful. I put romance in quotes because it barely qualifies. *sideeyes the romance in this book*

      I know you’re a fellow “not really a contemporary” person and as one of those I can tell you, other Gayle Formans=Yay and Love! This one=Nay and Dislike :( You love the other ones. I promise.
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

    • Kim

      Oh yes, Brianna. I am here for you. It makes me so happy when people can come here like, “I’m glad I’m not alone!” You are not. Everyone I’ve talked to in meatspace about this book also feels the same. There are many of us in the same boat, I promise.
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  12. Carina Olsen

    Aw. Amazing review Kim. <3 I haven't read any books by this author yet, but I don't think I want to :p And especially not this one. Ack. I think it sounds pretty awful, to be honest o.O And I very much understand why you had issues with it. I wouldn't like it either, I'm sure. The romance sounds fucked up, hah. Not good or fun or anything :( I want good romances. Hmph. But thank you for sharing your awesome review and honest thoughts. <3
    Carina Olsen recently posted…Cover Reveal: The Copper Gauntlet by Cassandra Clare & Holly Black

    • Kim

      Oh my goodness, Carina! This is shocking! Drop everything and read the other Gayle Forman’s now (you can skip this one-trust me). The romance in this one is as awful as I’ve made it sound but the romance in her other books is just lovely. Read them asap! They are really as wonderful as the hype machine tells you. Promise.
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  13. Hannah

    A lot of people have been very disappointed with this book – I’ll be reading it in the next week or two, but I’m going in rather cautiously!

    I do think romance can feel quite out of place and be quite inappropriate in a book dealing with suicide (IMO), especially if it’s so cliched like you described.
    Hannah recently posted…Review: The Body Electric – Beth Ravis

    • Kim

      Caution is key here. I think that, handled well, romance has a place in a book dealing with suicide. But it is absolutely out of place and just so…off here. The romantic lead is the opposite of crushworthy and is also her dead friend’s former fling. Just…no. And there’s barely any development to the romance at all. I was scratching my head. “When did these characters get to know each other? It didn’t happen on the page!” Sad sigh.
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  14. Mary @ BookSwarm

    Like you, I really like Gayle Forman’s writing. She’s got such a knack for bringing characters to life and putting the reader right there in each unique setting so I can definitely imagine your upset over this disappointment. Cody just doesn’t sound like someone I want to meet and I’m definitely not in the mood for a darkly depressing book (rarely am I in that mood, actually. I try to escape that mood, yanno?). So, sadly, I’m going to take a pass on this story.
    Mary @ BookSwarm recently posted…Pre-Squee: Dead Heat by Patricia Briggs

    • Kim

      Oh, absolutely, Mary. I am largely an “escapism” reader which is why I don’t, by and large, care for contemporary. I want to be wholly swept away into fantastical realms and daring futures. I’ve been a huge fan of all of Gayle Forman’s previous books, though. Her writing is phenomenal and she has a way of writing these profound truths into her stories with a lot of subtlety. It makes it all the more upsetting that this story lacks her trademark excellence. Cody’s head is just unpleasant. Her bitterness and judgmental attitude make an already weary book wearier. I don’t need all of my main characters to be sunshine and rainbows but I do need the unpleasantness tempered with *some* positive attributes. *sigh*
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  15. Allison

    I just started this one, and so far, I’m not loving it. I’m bummed to hear that we don’t learn too much more about Meg. I think that would have been a really rich exploration.
    Allison recently posted…What I’m Watching: Cake

    • Kim

      I certainly hope it ends up going much better for you. But if you’re not feeling it so far, it’s probably unlikely to improve I regret to say. And I agree very much. Had we gotten more about Meg, and less of Cody’s whining about how her friend kept secrets and left and her behind, the story would have been much better served.
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

    • Kim

      I know. So disappointing! But I have very little doubt that Gayle will bounce back to prime form with her next book. Such is my faith in her talent!
      Kim recently posted…I Was Here: Review

  16. Rachael

    I just finished this book as well! I completely agree with you that it would have been nice to have some flashbacks a la “If I Stay”. I would have liked to have learned more about Cody and Meg’s friendship before Meg moved away for school. Sorry you didn’t like this one more!
    Rachael recently posted…Review: I Was Here

    • Kim

      It’s so strange how well those flashbacks worked in If I Stay versus how much Cody’s recollections of Meg just…don’t. We never truly get a sense of who Meg was and I think the story suffers for it. How can I care about what Cody’s going through when I can’t connect with either her or friend? Bah! Frustrating.