If You Were Here by Jennie Yabroff follows the life of Tess as she tries to come to terms with her best friend’s blatant betrayal and an unusual gift that she’s constantly tried to ignore. When an untimely death and a dark accusation engulfs Tess’s world she has to embrace the gift that she’s been given in order to clear her name.
I only finished this novel because I was curious about how the author would choose to end it. I’ve recently fallen in love with books that are Sci-Fi related or that feature the supernatural and Tess’s story seemed to be right up my alley. While the book delivered the right amount of weird, a few things blocked me from fully enjoying it. Firstly, I disliked the protagonist’s voice. I think that one of my main pet peeves while reading any novel is that I need to feel as if I can, if not relate, sympathize with the protagonist. When Tess and Tabitha were younger, Tess used to mock Tabitha for looking the way she did and so did everyone else. However, when Tess’s mother becomes “sick”, she becomes friends with Tabitha solely because the other kids began to treat her like an outcast. Ironically, when Tabitha decides to reinvent herself over a summer vacation she instantly becomes a part of the popular crowd and Tess is left in the proverbial dark. Their entire relationship seems petty and I couldn’t feel anything for either character.
The only aspect of the novel that kept me engaged was the storyline. From Tess’s grandmother using the dregs of someone’s tea to tell their future to the way in which Tess received her visions, I enjoyed reading it all. What I particularly liked is that, by the time the book was reaching the climax, Tess discovers that she isn’t the only person who has “superpowers”. When another character in the novel shows her gifts, Tess feels like she isn’t alone anymore. With this girl’s help, Tess is also able to piece together what happened that fateful night and how she can clear her name.
Another highlight of If You Were Here is how the novel addresses mental illness. Tess is socially excluded from her peers because the majority of her school witnesses Tess’s mother having a mental breakdown in front of the school yard. Instead of allowing readers to pity Tess’s mother, it’s revealed that Tess’s mother is only diagnosed as being ill when she really possesses the same gift as Tess. However, unlike Tess, her mother decides to conform to the societal expectations instead of embracing her gift.
In all, If You Were Here by Jennie Yabroff is a novel that explores the fickleness of friendship among young girls, touches on the odd and supernatural and is another story which shows that everyone is gifted in their own way. While it’s a book that is easily forgettable, it is an enjoyable summer read that you can sink your teeth into.