Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman
This book was a personal purchase.
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“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 seem to be on a kick of reading books about dying teens… well, presuming two books constitutes a “kick”. This is actually the second one that I read, and it, like Maybe One Day by Melissa Kantor, made me cry. That’s unusual, because most books don’t get that kind of emotion from me, no matter how invested I am in the story and characters. It’s the mark of an excellent writer if I get choked up by something I’m reading.
The other emotions churned up by this novel were disquiet, horror, and outright anger. This is also the mark of a skilled writer, as is the fact that this novel is immensely unsatisfying. By this I mean that there is no real closure for those whom Meg leaves behind, no massive epiphany that allows Cody and Meg’s family to move on. And in this, the novel is at its most realistic. So when I say the novel is unsatisfying, please realize that I mean it as a compliment.
Forman incorporates suicide support groups into the tale–and not the support groups that help you get rid of suicidal thoughts, but the ones that encourage you to give in to them. I was impressed to see that the author showed not only how damaging such websites can be, but also acknowledges the kind of comfort to be gained from anonymously admitting to feelings and urges that are so difficult to confront (although at no time does she defend them). For me, that’s where the majority of the disgust/disquiet/etc. came from: the idea that there are people dedicated to helping people end their own lives.
The forums are also used as a method for letting Cody talk without restraint about her feelings concerning Meg’s death. There are no scenes of her sitting with a counselor or a trusted friend. Her attempts to uncover the mysteries behind Meg’s suicide become as much about uncovering and dealing with her own darkness as that of her friend. It’s uncomfortable to read, and it’s meant to be so.
I feel like this novel was less a portrait of grief as one of anger. It’s not considered acceptable to be angry at someone who takes their own life, and yet it’s nearly impossible not to feel that anger. Instead of a weepy, maudlin story, Forman gives us a challenging one, and one that is meant to push some buttons.
The only thing I wish is that we had seen something of Meg and Cody–and of Cody by herself–before Meg’s suicide. With nothing to compare her behavior to, it’s not as easy to see the emotional roller coaster as the all-encompassing trauma that it is. There’s plenty of emotion to go around, though, and the author in general does a fine job with an extremely difficult topic.