Publication date: January 27th 2015
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 couldn’t write a normal review for this book, because I couldn’t separate it from my feelings. so I wrote a letter to Gayle. I hope it conveys some of the thoughts and feelings I had while reading.
When you told us at BEA14 that I Was Here was the book of your heart, I was, I don’t know, expecting another beautiful and fragile epistle about the extraordinary powers of the human heart and how fate brings us together with the people we love and how family creates a space where we can feel safe to play harder, fly farther, and find our way in life.
Those are the things that I got from If I Stay and Where She Went and Just One Day, Just One Year, and Just One Night.
I was not expecting such a deep, dark, and soul-searching journey through a psyche that is grieving. Because that’s what I Was Here is – an exploration of grief and how to handle it when something more devastating than circumstance happens to you. When your best friend, the person you loved and talked to more than any other, decides to take her own life, and you are left to figure out why.
Your other books are about how fate and rightness and circumstance can make things happen or not happen, and how love can overcome. This one is about what happens when love doesn’t overcome. And because of that, it is so much harder to read because, I don’t know about other people, but for me, the guilt and grief would just overtake me, force me into dark wells of despair.
But that’s where I Was Here is so confident and sure, because the way you wrote Cody’s examination of Meg’s descent into a suicide, and her journey to try and understand why Meg did it and how she couldn’t have seen it coming, and didn’t she matter as a friend at all and did she even know her – these are all questions I’ve asked of death – and questions I’ve asked when I’ve been depressed myself.
You looked this special kind of grief in the face and you wrote about it truthfully. And, like the rest of your books, you sent Cody on a journey not only to try to find our more about Meg, but also one of coping, finding herself and forgiving herself, which is the hardest thing for anyone to do. You navigated the broken, sarcastic voice of Cody and gave her a heart that was both closed off and vulnerable, unable to cry, but able to delve into her own pain so that she could find some closure.
And you gave us the makeshift family that is in the rest of your books – they’re not quite as close as the family that Allyson and Willem or Mia and Adam find, but I can tell that they will be. Harry Kang, and Alice, and Tree, and Richard, and Scottie and Sue and Joe and Tricia and especially the wonderful, sexy, and enigmatic Ben (and kittens Pete and Repeat!)…they will be there for Cody as she keeps fighting to live.
Because that’s what I felt you did best in this book. You made a living character who didn’t feel like a character at all, but felt like an extension of me and all my feelings. I was Cody while she was in the library everyday researching Meg’s death. I was her while she was packing up Meg’s life. I was her when she took bold and rash steps, alone and with others, to try to understand.
It’s easy to understand why Meg did what she did. It’s a complex answer, but the truth is easy to absorb. The harder question is how to move on afterwards and how to make things better. I think, by putting the story in Cody’s voice, instead of Meg’s, you did a beautiful thing. You made it a little bit easier for people to move on after such a tragedy because you gave it a face and a voice and you made Cody so real. And you made it a bit easier to talk about mental illness and why awareness is key. And you reminded people like me, who do suffer from depression sometimes, why fighting those demons off matters so much, everyday.
Thank you for writing this novel.
P.S. I discovered while reading this book that I couldn’t just listen to anything while reading, so here is my personal playlist for I Was Here. I hope it lives up to Meg’s standards for music.