Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

IWasHerePublished by: Simon & Schuster
ISBN 13: 9781471124396
Published: January 2015
Pages: 270
Format reviewed: eVersion from NetGalley
Site: Author Site
Goodreads: Book Page
Stars: Five out of Five

A novel of those left behind when someone commits suicide, this is set after a college-aged Meg takes her own life. I Was Here follows her best-friend Cody’s journey of accepting what has happened. Trapped between her responsibilities to Meg’s family and her own methods of coping, we see her innermost thoughts – as cruel and terrible as they sometimes are, and feel her devastation and frustration at the world around her, and the people she interacts with.

Cody doesn’t come from a well-off family. Her mother is hardly present in her life and she has never met her father, let alone spoken to him. There’s not much money around, and so after high school, instead of moving away for college, Cody had to work instead (cleaning the homes of other people) and trying to scrape together enough to join Meg where she’s gone to college on a scholarship. But friendships are hard to keep hold of during distance, leaving Cody even more guilty after Meg’s death. She had no idea Meg could even conceive of doing such a thing, and struggles to understand how could she not have any clue her best friend was in such a bad place. She feels responsible, and so takes on the request of Meg’s parents to go up to Meg’s college boarding room to pack up her things.

There she meets people who knew Meg at the last stage of her life, and there she also meets a certain male with incredibly vivid eyes that she remembers mention of in one of Meg’s emails – Tragic Guitar Hero, named that for the way he moves – the guitarist that all females go crazy for, and starts to wonder whether he may have something to do with it all. Could he have broken Meg’s heart? How could he be cruel to Meg, someone who the sun shines for, someone Cody can’t speak highly enough of – the thought is just unfathomable.

Also, left behind in Meg’s room is a laptop, and Cody’s unhealthy desire to determine why Meg would take her own life entices her to look through Meg’s files and emails… and step by step, armed with one of Meg’s housemates who is extraordinarily good with computers, she starts to piece together what led up to the sad event. And it pulls her down deeper and deeper until she’s almost too far gone to be able to claw her own way out.

What this novel does fantastically well is present people in a very well-rounded manner. There’s a character called Tree who’s simply a bitch, but the novel goes on to show all aspects of her self, and we feel her as a real person by the end of it – sure, she’s a bitch, but there’s more to her than that. She has reasons to act as she does, and she’s not simply a plot device to add angst.

We see an all-sorted mix of families and the children these families have created through the years of being trapped together – some children are raised in loving households, and some aren’t so lucky, leaving them bitter and bruised with a nasty streak.

We see the rougher walks of life, where there’s dumpster diving just to eat, and the types of jobs one must take even if they come with sexual harassment – and there’s little support out there to make it go away, or for there to be consequences.

I devoured this novel in a few hours, and it was such a high barrage of emotion. This is a tale that features people of cover – slightly disappointing they don’t seem to be accurately represented on the cover – and also deals with suicide in a matter-of-fact type of way. This is a novel that will stay on my mind for months to come.

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