Monday, February 23, 2015

Review of I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I Was Here
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.

(Summary from GoodReads)

I’ve enjoyed all of Gayle Forman’s books up until this point, so I had high expectations going into I Was Here.  I’m going to go ahead and warn you now that this review will be full of spoilers, because otherwise I can’t really voice my concerns about it otherwise.  Forman’s prose remains strong and she creates an interesting story for Cody, but I felt some serious issues were mishandled.

The majority of this book is focused on Cody trying to unravel what she thinks is the mystery behind her friend Meg’s suicide.  The storyline here kept me intrigued, but I felt like Forman didn’t do a whole lot with it. Cody ends up bringing a boy named Ben with her as she deals with all of this, and while the issues with their relationship wrapped up nicely, I didn’t feel a connection with him as the love interest.

At the very end of the story, Cody’s parents sit down and tell her the truth about Meg.  Meg suffered from depression and this was kept under wraps because it was worried how the town would react.  She didn’t like taking her medication because it made her feel dull and less like herself.

Meg’s depression is clearly meant to be a plot twist, and I hate that it was handled that way.  Depression is a real disease that many people suffer from daily, and it’s a complex disease.  It’s not something that can be summed up in a few pages—it needs to be explored, and that wasn’t there in this case.

Meg’s reasoning behind not taking her medication is also problematic.  Amanda MacGregor provides an explanation as to why this is a case and I couldn’t put it better myself, so I’m going to leave her post here.  

I Was Here is not the first book this year that’s been discussed as treating mental illness problematically (see also All the Bright Places and The Last Time We Say Goodbye, neither of which I’ve read), and I’m not sure why this new trend in YA has come about.  I would love to live in a world where we try to separate mental illness from the stigma that surrounds us, and I fear that I Was Here detracts from those efforts. It will be purchased widely and circulate well in libraries due to Forman’s popularity, and I hope it inspires important conversations among readers of all ages.

Disclosure: I received an electronic galley of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Other reviews:


  1. Hey! Definitely agree that depression as the plot twist was strange... but I'm also wondering if it does still manage to create conversation about mental illness because these parents dealt with it in a way that was... not stellar. I agree this book was a little thin, I wish I had loved it, but there was much left to be desired for me. I don't want to say that Forman has an obligation to teach us anything (maybe only to be thoughtful about things, which we are) but (and now because it's been awhile since I read this) I'm wondering if Cody was pissed that Meg's parents kept this from her. But in ways this stigma (that her parents perpetuated) brought her down. So. I have no idea what I'm saying but let me know if it makes any sense at all. Great post. I hadn't thought of it this way at all.

  2. Great review. I haven't read I Was Here (and likely won't as you are not the first person to raise concerns) but I can tell you that I did have similar issues with All the Bright Places which tried with more of a heavy hand to address the stigma that often surrounds mental illness. Unfortunately it did that while also romanticizing one character's suicide and framing them as shining too brightly to live long in our world.

    I have to say I'm quite tired of this micro-trend and especially of it always being cast as a mystery with the mental illness becoming a big reveal. Very troubling.

  3. I took the depression as less of a plot twist and more of a comment on how easily someone can hide depression very well. Great review!

    Kate @ Ex Libris

  4. This book is breathtaking, it draws you in slowly then spins you around till you don't feel you know anything for certain, then like it began it slowly puts the pieces back together and leaves you feeling breathless.

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