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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Guest Blogger -- I Was Here: A Novel

Gayle Forman and I go way back. In fact, to this day If I Stay remains one of my favorite novels of all time. I found it so amazing that I actually thought about changing my first name to Mia. Really, it was just that good. While I decided to stick with Charlotte in the end, if I ever have a goldfish you can bet I’m naming it Mia. But that was 2009 and sometimes our favorite authors seem to lose touch. I think most people will agree that Gayle has been a bit hit-or-miss since If I Stay, with Where She Went being the hit and Just One Day, Night, or Year (take your pick) coming up a bit short.

So, with I Was Here, I desperately needed a heaping spoonful of If I Stay magic to rekindle my infatuation with all things Gayle Forman. Does this latest release deliver? Are there any honorary name changes in my future? Yes and no.

Like If I Stay, I Was Here is build around one of the most traumatic events imaginable. Meg Garcia has just been found dead in a hotel room after committing suicide. By the looks of things, Meg’s plans to take her own life clearly began months earlier, were highly organized, and left nothing to chance. Cody is blindsided by the tragedy and, believing there is more to Meg’s death than meets the eye, is desperate for answers. Early on, I found it odd that Cody never cried or experienced grief in a conventional way. For the first few chapters Cody just seemed resentful and angry. The sadness was really missing.

Later on in the book Cody describes Meg as her sun. As she begins to come to terms with Meg’s death, she feels left in total darkness and, with nothing to orbit, her life is now in freefall. Meg’s family had pretty much adopted Cody, and Cody had looked up to Meg as the stronger, more outgoing, big sister type. All through high school the girls had planned their escape from their small dead-end town. The plan had been for both of them to move to Seattle after high school, but Meg was the one who got the big scholarship. That left Cody cleaning houses for cash and saving for college, while Meg lived it up in the big city.

It’s clear that Cody was bitter with Meg for being the one that made it out after high school. And when, at the request of Meg’s parents, Cody goes to Seattle to pack up Meg’s things, her resentment builds as it becomes clear just how far they’ve drifted apart. As Cody begins to sort through the leftovers of the life that Meg left behind, her grief intensifies, as does her search for someone or something to blame for Meg’s death.

Before her suicide, Meg had been a fixture on the underground Seattle music scene and Ben was the lead singer of her favorite band. Their friendship eventually became more and neither could handle the aftermath. Meg wanted a relationship and Ben wanted to keep living like a rock star. Meg had trouble dealing with this truth (and reality) and spent weeks sending Ben stream-of-consciousness emails that reveal her lingering instability.

When Ben shares these emails with Cody, along with his own feelings of responsibility for Meg’s death, the two become unlikely allies. Ben then decides to do everything he can to help Cody find the answers she needs. Ultimately, Cody comes to peace with Meg’s decision to take her own life and is able to move on.

This is a book about suicide, but not. There’s more to it than that. The intensity of the relationship between Meg and Cody is a familiar dynamic we all have with our closest friends, but can never explain. I loved that Cody was on a mission fueled by raw emotion and, as you’ll see, finds love when she’s at her most vulnerable. Cody’s relentless search for answers is left unchecked throughout the novel just as mine would be if I lost someone so close to me. It all felt so real. I was so wrapped up in the story of Cody’s journey that I didn’t realize what it was all about until after I closed the book. It was less about the questions surrounding Meg’s death and more about how Cody processed her loss.

At times the story slows down, but still manages to take the right turns throughout. If I Stay remains my favorite, but I Was Here is right up there, with Where She Went as a close second. So, I’m keeping my name but Cody gets maybe a hermit crab or a goldfish named in her honor.

Book Chameleon

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