Advanced Reader Copy received from the publisher (Simon & Schuster) via NetGalley
Release Date (UK): 29th January 2015
Read as part of the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge (Task: A YA Novel)
I’ve always been a little bit skeptical about Gayle Forman. I know she has a huge fan base out there, but her stories always sound like they could be a little cliched to me. But when I saw her upcoming novel on NetGalley a while ago, I decided I needed to see what all the fuss was about for myself. And I’m glad I did.
Meg and Cody were inseparable growing up, until Meg moved away for University and committed suicide less than a year later. Cody can’t understand how someone so full of life – “a rose blooming in the desert” – could choose to end it all, and even more mystifying is the fact that she had no idea her friend felt that way. She is wracked with guilt, grief and confusion, she feels culpable by neglect, musing “the one time in her life she might have needed me, I failed her.”
Everything about Meg’s death was meticulously planned; she left a will and sent a suicide note via an email on time delay to her parents and Cody. But a line in the note arouses suspicion for Cody and, when Meg’s parents ask her to visit Meg’s University to pack her belongings, Cody takes the opportunity to dig a little deeper into her friend’s death.
Cody trawls through Meg’s emails, interrogates her housemates and makes multiple interstate journeys to find out what happened to Meg. As she begins to retrace her friend’s final few months, she uncovers some shocking and disturbing things, but she also learns more about herself. Although the mystery of what happened to Meg is what had me gripped throughout the novel, the true journey is the one Cody goes through. As she tries to put herself in her friend’s shoes, she finds herself sinking into her own melancholy, following in Meg’s footsteps.
“So much shit has happened in the last year of my life that I am questioning whether I even have a life, or if what I thought was my life is actually an illusion, or maybe a delusion. Because it doesn’t seem like living to me. It seems like persevering, like that’s the most I can hope for. I’m not that old, but I’m already so tired.”.
Cody’s descent into grief and guilt made for a difficult and emotional read, but what was most disturbing was the way the story demonstrated how easily a vulnerable person could be manipulated and pushed closer to the edge. But, as Cody discovers, she is not the same person as Meg. She perseveres in finding the answers as to why Meg died, and along the way learns more about herself.
Forman didn’t completely avoid clichés for me – there is an element of romance in the story between Cody and Meg’s ex, Ben, which I didn’t entirely get along with. Not only because he was supposed to be a bad boy player who broke Meg’s heart but changed his ways incredibly quickly on meeting Cody, but also because of the moral implications. It seemed that all they had to bond them was a shared grief, and their relationship was a distraction for Cody from her guilt over Meg’s fate – when in actual fact, this relationship should have been a source of further guilt. But, on the other hand, perhaps Cody needed something to focus on and this relationship was a catalyst to help her begin to consider her own future again and move on from Meg.
In I Was Here, Forman has crafted a novel which examines the topics of grief and teenage suicide eloquently, whilst still being gripping due to the element of mystery. Forman captures a myriad of feelings through Cody’s voice, and you can’t help but feel for her. While this is a drama and a mystery, at it’s heart this is a coming-of-age tale, as Cody’s character develops throughout the novel, coming to terms with the past and learning to believe in the future again.