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.
There are so many stories lately that are dealing with issues of teen mental health, suicide and loss that it’s hard to keep up sometimes. There is a fine line that needs to be straddled when discussing these issues, one that veers between the maudlin and the preachy but I Was Here handles the issues with sensitivity and honesty. Forman adds an unusual twist on her story, giving us the perspective of Cody, the best friend Meg left behind when she drank industrial strength cleaner in a motel room. There are some pretty serious issues discussed in this book, and it should be noted that this book comes with a trigger warning for anyone who has had issues with depression and suicidal thoughts.
Cody is a little lost herself; she stayed behind when Meg went to university due to financial issues and now cleans houses and dreams of what might have been. Meg’s death has been hard on her, especially when she begins to realize that there is more to Meg’s story than was originally thought. As Cody returns to Meg’s room and begins to meet her room-mates and the mysterious Ben, she realizes that there were sides to Meg that she never knew.
There were almost three stories being told in this book; the story of Cody and Meg’s past friendship, the story of Cody’s life now and the story of Meg’s mysterious hidden life. I liked how all three were interwoven, and how each was impacted by the others. I thought Forman did a great job showing how we present a certain picture to the world, but that the picture we present is all-too-often not the true story. Everyone in this book is not who they appear to be, and part of the journey that Cody has to take is to figure out who she really is before she can accept the reality of others.
There are a few really difficult sections of the book, including a whole storyline revolving around an assisted suicide forum. While deeply disturbing and unsettling, it’s even more so when you realize that these forums not only exist, but that they thrive, particularly with the subtle support of some pretty messed up individuals. A few friends with troubled histories read this book and commented to me that it was uncanny how similar their own statements were echoed on the message boards, and how they had encountered similar individuals during their own dark times. The other section revolved around Cody’s relationship with her mother. I have to give Forman credit for not allowing a fairy-tale ending, as parent-child relationships are difficult and constantly evolving, and a lack of communication and trust throughout your childhood is not resolved overnight.
Fans of Forman’s other work may find this a more difficult read, but overall I found the book to be a beautifully sensitive and heartbreaking look at loss, forgiveness and moving on.