One of the things that initially put me off reading this book was the heavy topic – I didn’t want to be sobbing whilst revising for exams! But now that’s all over and I’m back in the mood for a small dose of gritty contemporary, which is exactly what I got from I Was Here.
My absolute favourite thing about this novel was the way it dealt so sensitively with a very difficult subject matter. The ramifications of Meg’s suicide were felt acutely throughout her community and lasted for some time after her passing. The various ways people coped with life without her felt genuine and bittersweet. I thought Gayle Forman’s writing style worked very nicely here; she delivered a touching and emotive narrative that really had me sympathising with Meg’s friends and family. I also very much enjoyed the ending of I Was Here. Despite grief being the central theme of the novel, the epilogue finished on an uplifting note which was exactly what this story needed. In fact there was an overwhelming sense of hope that resonated with me – that no matter how bad things get, life goes on.
The minor characters in this book were great. I really liked all of Meg’s college friends: Alice, Richard, Harry, even Tree. Their personalities were really well defined and they all came across as dynamic, interesting people, plus they all contributed in some way to the story and had some great interactions with Cody. I also liked the emphasis on Cody’s family and her relationship with her mum toward the latter half of the story. The road trip element was also a nice touch. I mean, who doesn’t love a good road trip?
So, unfortunately I never really felt a particularly strong connection with I Was Here’s protagonist, which is a bit of a problem when you’re reading a book told from their perspective. As a character Cody is a fairly pessimistic person, which is understandable given what she’s been through, but doesn’t justify her overly hostile attitude towards everyone. There were times when her humour crossed the line from sarcastic to bitchy and that didn’t sit well with me, especially when it was directed at people who were only trying to help or befriend her. Also, although she is the narrator, I think it’s safe to say that Meg is the main character and consequently we learn more about her than we do about Cody, beyond the basic appearance/family life. This meant I lost interest in Cody’s personal journey very quickly and was carried along solely by the mystery plot. Of course, when that wrapped up I was all ready to finish reading and there were still 40 pages to go.
Which brings us nicely on to the romance, which I was not the greatest fan of. Not by a long shot. There was too much lust and not enough love in the relationship between Cody and Ben and the way the couple were continuously on-again-off-again made me want to bash my head against a wall. I mean, why sleep with a guy and then decide twelve hours later you don’t want to see him again? I think the dynamic could have worked much better if they had simply become close friends who grieved Meg’s loss together.
This novel was perfectly average, so I’m giving it a perfectly average three stars. Parts of the story were quite similar to If I Stay: there was death and music and some very deep questions to mull over. I Was Here is one of those books that change your perspective on life, if only for a little while. If you like more light-hearted contemporaries then look elsewhere; if not I would certainly recommend you pick this up.