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, and some secrets of his own. 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 by Gayle Forman is a thought-provoking novel. It explores suicide and all of the emotional effects that blossom out from that one decision. Cody and Meg were best friends for the majority of their lives; Meg was the more extroverted and social of the two and Cody, although quieter, was clearly proud to be her best friend. Meg’s suicide comes as a shock not only to Cody and Meg’s family, but to the town as a whole. How could this girl who seemed to have everything going for her have been in such a bad place that she felt it was necessary to take her own life? Cody, especially, wants to know.
I Was Here turns into a compelling mystery of trying to discover what led Meg to that point, a dive into the mind of someone who was in the darkest place of her life. Cody slowly pieces together Meg’s struggles through her grief, but with one important piece of the puzzle missing until the very end. The reader puts together Meg’s story alongside Cody and is kept wondering, hoping, and confused.
Forman cleverly uses anonymous online forums as a way for Cody to piece together what happened to Meg. The fact that people go by made-up user names adds to the mystery, guilt, and confusion that Cody is struggling with. She is looking for someone, anyone, to blame for Meg’s suicide but Meg herself, and is sure that that person must’ve been from the online forum. Even though it won’t bring Meg back, this journey that she goes on brings Cody enough strength and self-discovery that she will be able to go on without Meg by her side.
The sadness and grief brought on by reading this novel hit me in the heart in a very real way. While lucky to not have gone through a similar experience myself, I know that many people out there have, and I was able to empathize in ways that I haven’t before. Suicide is a difficult and emotionally heavy topic to read about, but Forman includes enough lighter moments that readers won’t be drowning in sorrow the entire time. I Was Here is a unique look at mental illness, the stigma that surrounds it, and life and death. I Was Here conveys a different kind of emotional story than If I Stay, which is filled with waves of fresh grief and how to make the decision to go on in life, but one that is just as important in the message it is telling.
I’ll be interviewing Gayle Forman this evening at her tour stop in Richmond, VA, so be on the lookout for the interview to come here on The Young Folks later this week!