I Was Here

I Was Here – Gayle Forman

Kindle Edition

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“I don’t know if I had ever really listened to the words before, because when I did now, they were like a smack from her grave. It says you can still forgive her. And she will forgive you back.

But I don’t know that I can. And I don’t know that she did.”

– Cody Reynolds, I Was Here

Gayle Forman, author of books such as If I Stay, Where She Went, and Just One Day brings readers I Was Here, the story of one young woman’s search for answers in the wake of a tragedy. Meg and Cody were best friends. Where Meg ended, Cody began. They knew everything about each other. Except they didn’t. Not even close. Because Cody had no idea that her best friend was so depressed that she needed to swallow poison to make the pain go away. When someone takes their life unexpectedly, it’s natural for those around them to question why they didn’t see any warning signs. It’s also understandable to look for some reasoning behind their decision.

As humans we’re conditioned to ask questions about situations that leave us confused. Why? Because answers help us cope. Help us move on. And we cannot move on until we reach a conclusion, a finality in our quest for answers. So when Meg’s grieving parents ask their daughter’s best friend, Cody, who is like a second daughter to them, to pick up Meg’s stuff from school, she accepts, albeit reluctantly. Although combing through the remainders of Meg’s life feels all wrong for Cody, she continues doing so. While picking up Meg’s belongings, she meets her former roommates who were just as in the dark about Meg’s suicide as her parents and Cody, her supposed best friend. Cody also stumbles upon Ben McCallister, the guy who broke Meg’s heart.

Cody is looking for someone to blame – someone other than herself that is – for Meg’s heartache. At first, the person that fits that bill is Ben. Even more so after she finds e-mail after e-mail from Meg to Ben that for the most part go unanswered. There is one poignant response from Ben, however; the one where he tells Meg she needs to leave him alone. If only he knew the lengths she would go to to satisfy that request. Only it’s not that simple. Even Cody knows that. Most college freshmen don’t kill themselves over unrequited feelings. When Meg’s parents insist Cody keep Meg’s laptop, Cody gets an insight into her best friend’s world that she never saw coming. Meg had joined a suicide support group. But it’s not the type of group that dissuades suicide. Oh, no. It is one that encourages it.

This is a discovery that leaves Cody reeling and angry. Angry that people – specifically one person – would goad her obviously confused best friend into killing herself. This person and this group need to pay. Fueled by a myriad of emotions, Cody hatches a plan. She makes a profile for the page and begins to post in an attempt to lure out the man who helped Meg take her own life. And at first, Cody knows it’s all lies. But in a way, it’s also the truth. When she writes about losing her other half in Meg, she isn’t lying. And even though Cody goes into this knowing it’s a hoax, it doesn’t make it any less intoxicating when she is able to make contact with the user going by the name “All_BS,” fitting for an individual who offers death as a solution to those who are lost.

In addition to playing detective, Cody also struggles to keep her distance from Ben, who is intoxicating on a whole other level. He’s able to get under a skin in a way nobody else can, but it’s so wrong. So very wrong. Because this is the same guy who broke Meg’s heart. Between tracking down All_BS and her attempts to not fall into Ben’s trap like the many girls before her and Meg, Cody is barely holding it together. Maybe it would be easier to just end her own life the same way Meg did. After all, they were best friends, were they not?

Forman is able to take a book that appears to be about suicide and turn it into a story that is really much more. And she does it with extreme talent. At its core, I Was Here is about friendship, love, family, and finding oneself in a world that is more vague than certain. It’s about letting go while finding a way to hold on. And lastly, it’s about forgiveness; for those who are no longer with us and for those who still are and most importantly, for ourselves.

Fans who enjoyed Forman’s If I Stay will surely devour I Was Here. I certainly did.

Conclusion: 5/5 stars

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How it Ends

screenshot-2017-02-14-at-2-19-29-pmHow it Ends – Catherine Lo

Kindle Edition

YA

How it Ends is the story of friendship and the ebbs and flows that go along with it. Jessie is an anxious, shy, loner who has been bullied by her two ex-friends since junior high. Annie is the loud, rebellious, in your face new girl. Separately, they are fragile and lost. Together, they are strong and comfortable in their own skins. Jessie is the yin to Annie’s yang. Surely when you have a bond like that with someone, it can overcome anything…

…or can it?

Both girls are fighting their own individual battles. For Jessie, that is her anxiety and subsequent panic attacks. For Annie, it’s dealing with her new insta-family in her stepmother, Madge (Madeline) and her daughter Sophie. Annie is convinced Madge hates her and as for Sophie? Well, they’re not exactly going to win the ‘sisters of the year’ award. It’s only fitting that the more uncomfortable and out of place Annie feels within her own family the more comfortable she feels as part of Jessie’s.

But Jessie isn’t having the best home life either. Her mom is the definition of a helicopter mom. Jessie has social anxiety and is on medication, medication that her mother closely monitors. On the other hand, Jessie’s father doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with his daughter. In addition to her parents differing opinions regarding her ‘issues’ Jessie is embarrassed by their board game nights complete with tacos and sombreros, much to the chagrin of her new best friend Annie, who think it’s the coolest thing in the world. But for better or worse, at least Jessie has Annie.

And then…well, then things start to change. Alliances shift. Annie becomes closer to Courtney and Lissette, aka the bane of Jessie’s existence. And the more Jessie feels like she’s losing Annie, the more she clings to her. And as much as Annie loves Jessie, she doesn’t want to have only one friend. Then, of course, a boy comes into the mix. Annie starts dating Scott, Jessie’s lab partner whom she has a huge crush on, even though she won’t admit to it.

However, I should clarify that this is not a book about two best friends falling apart due to a guy. Yes, he’s one reason that Jessie starts to pull back from Annie, but he’s not the main reason. I think that’s really true to life, which is hardly ever black and white. There are shades of gray. It doesn’t help that Jessie keeps her anxiety hidden from Annie. I get it, though. I do. We still have a huge stigma surrounding mental health and people do judge you when they find out you have anxiety. I think it’s because people equate anxiety with weakness.

While reading this book, I was struck by how much I could relate to Jessie. A lot of what she deals with, I did when I was younger and still do now. Jessie has this incessant need to check and make sure that nobody is upset with her, to check that Annie is truly her best friend and that she won’t pull a Courtney on her. Now, I know for people who don’t have anxiety – or for someone like Annie who is left in the dark for much of the novel about the extent of Jessie’s anxiety – these are behaviors that are considered annoying. But I must say that anxiety can be incredibly crippling. Imagine walking a tightrope and that is what having anxiety is like when you’re dealing with the outside world. You’re constantly trying to figure out how to balance keeping yourself calm while not intruding on others. I know first-hand that the need for constant reassurance unfortunately comes at the expense – or annoyance – of others.

So I guess I can’t be too mad at Annie for not getting it and Annie goes through a lot of her own share of pain, and I felt for her, too. There’s one event that takes place in Annie’s life that is completely heart wrenching. and I am sure it’s one that too many young girls, or women in general, have to go through.

Conclusion:

I think this is a pretty realistic story of the trials and tribulations of friendship, among other things, like how we feel about ourselves, which is really the most important relationship we can ever have in life.

4/5 stars

Please Ignore Vera Dietz

6665671***Kindle Version***

I’m pretty sure the reason I flock to YA (young adult) fiction so often is because somewhere I’m still an angst-filled sixteen year old (the part of me who wears graphic t’s and jeans really). I just don’t feel like I’ve accomplished enough to relate to books about 20-somethings who start out in search of something and then well, actually find something by the end of the book, because life doesn’t work like that.

You know it. I know it. We all know it, even Hollywood knows it which is why they choose to make  movies about it to inspire people. Yeah, well, I remain uninspired.

But YA novels just speak to me more and are generally more entertaining. That’s not to say I don’t read adult fiction, but more often than not, when I need to do a little bit of soul searching, I’ll read a YA book instead.

Having read A.S. King’s Ask the Passengers back in November, I had a pretty decent idea of the author’s style of writing, and I had a good feeling  I would therefore enjoy Please Ignore Vera Dietz.

PIVD is the story of high school senior, Vera Dietz, who has been dealing with the death of her best friend (and possible true love) Charlie Khan. While Vera is devastated by her BFF’s death, she’s also conflicted because before he died, Charlie turned against Vera in the cruel way that teenagers do, in the way you hope they look back when they have developed some perspective on the matter and realize how much of an asshole they were. Unfortunately, Charlie never gets that chance, at least not in person.

Throughout the novel, which is mostly is told through Vera’s POV, we get a picture of a lonely teenager who is trying to escape her own destiny, and how much destiny really plays a part in who you are as well as who you become. But as much as the book is about finding a way to not become the person you think you were destined to be, it is also about Vera coming to terms with her future, a future that doesn’t include the one person she thought she could trust forever.

What I like about PIVD is that it is told through different perspectives, not just Vera’s, although she is the main voice. We get insight from Charlie, as well as Vera’s dad, and the town itself. A bit of cynicism mixed with humor, love, hate, death, life, and forgiveness, Please Ignore Vera Dietz is truly a memorable novel and one that should not just fall under the category of “just a YA book.”

King truly knows how to speak to people of all ages, and because of that, I highly recommend this book.

Conclusion: 5/5 stars.