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.
This one was somewhat of a let down for me. I’ve been a fan of Gayle Forman’s since If I Stay was a light blue hardcover featuring a bird and a tree (what even was that cover??). She’s made my auto-buy list with her life-changing duologies that keep me self-reflecting weeks, months, years after reading them. The only reason I didn’t automatically purchase I Was Here was because I’ve been tight on money and trying to save. But I’m thankful that I didn’t purchase Forman’s fifth contemporary novel because I will never reread it.
Now let me just put this out there – this novel was by no means bad. In fact, I quite enjoyed reading it: it was a quick, easy, and, for the most part, engaging read. However, it didn’t live up to my extremely high standards for Gayle Forman. I Was Here is a novel about suicide, or rather, the aftermath of it. Cody is the former best friend of dead Meg, and she’s left to put together the pieces of Meg’s surprising suicide. The novel deals with friendship, with coming of age, with family, with small town life, and with love. It had all the ingredients for a great cake of a story, but overall it fell flat for me.
Here were my biggest issues:
1. Cody falls in love with the guy who broke Meg’s heart. They both lost their virginity to him.
2. The pacing of the novel is a bit slow and, at times, boring.
3. The big reason for Meg’s suicide – depression – is obvious to the reader from the beginning, but Cody never figures it out on her own.
4. Forman touches briefly on all of the issues explored in this novel, but doesn’t go into the depth readers experience in her other novels.
5. For a novel about teen suicide, it sparked hardly any emotion in me as a reader.
My favorite characters in this novel were side characters. I liked the character development of Cody’s mom, adored Meg’s little brother, and enjoyed the humor of Meg’s old roommates. I liked Cody and Ben both separately, and together in a platonic way. That being said, Cody and Ben together were just alright. While their romance did take a backseat in this novel, I think I Was Here would have been better off if it hadn’t existed at all. Their relationship brings this novel to the brink of the new adult genre rather than YA, and it just feels forced/cliche/fake/unnecessary to the focus of the plot.
The pros of this novel are great character development and evolution of relationships between characters. The characters provided depth where the issues did not. The plot is slow, but still manages to be engaging. I think every reader will be disgusted as it unfolds to reveal the events leading up to Meg’s death, and in this regard the novel is a success. Forman draws attention to the dangers of online pro-suicide “support groups” that prey on vulnerable young minds. As always, Forman tackles a deep issue, but with less grace than I was accustomed to in her previous novels. The many typos in the book and the lack of depth to the abundance of issues covered makes me think this book was written in a rush, with little revision or review. In addition, Forman’s writing had an inferior quality to it when compared to her other works.
Unfortunately, it is very difficult for me to write a fair, balanced review when I feel disappointed by a book, particularly one I was really looking forward to reading. I Was Here was not a poorly written, disgrace of a novel. Not at all. It was a far cry from Forman’s If I Stay and Just One Day duologies, but I rated it a 3.5/5 stars on Goodreads. There were certainly elements that I appreciated and I don’t regret reading it. But it didn’t change me the way I wanted it to, the way Forman’s other novels did and the way suicide novels like All the Bright Places did. It was underwhelming and that’s okay.
I remain neutral in recommending this novel. If it sounds interesting to you, then pick it up and you will most likely enjoy it. If you’re looking for a life-changing novel, I’d suggest reading one of Forman’s other books.