Allison's Book Bag

I Was Here by Gayle Foreman

Posted on: February 19, 2015

“When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated.” So reads the standard summary for I Was Here by Gayle Foreman, a young adult novel that is about suicide but is not a suicide book. Instead it’s a mystery and a romance, which is why I have mixed feelings about this first introduction of mine to Foreman.

Beyond the obvious, how is I Was Here about suicide? Foremost, it is about the impact that suicide has on those who are left behind. Complicated is about the only way to describe it. Cody and Meg were inseparable, until…. they weren’t. At the same time, their relationship had been starting to unravel before Meg’s death, because Cody didn’t share Meg’s same enthusiasm for college. Then there are Meg’s parents who know more about what happened to their daughter than Cody does, but still can’t bring themselves to deal with Meg’s belongings. Instead they ask Cody to make the road trip to Meg’s college residence for them. At the same time, they keep inviting Cody over to talk. Next there are Meg’s former roommates. While they do show concern, they don’t all exactly live by the idea of being respectful of the dead. One roommate shows apathy, then hostility, and only eventually some remorse over Meg’s suicide. There’s always the risk with suicide stories that dying will get glorified. This isn’t the case here, which makes I Was Here better than the average teen problem novel.

What gets tiring to me about the average teen novel is that the story tends to revolve completely around a social concern … such as suicide. Foreman avoids turning I Was Here into a suicide book by, as I noted above, writing it as a mystery. When Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind after her friend commits suicide, Cody discovers there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her roommates, the sort of people the two best friends would have never hung out with in their small hometown. About tragic guitar hero, a bad boy with a band and a sneer and some secrets. About two kittens whom Meg had apparently rescued, and even nursed back to health, only to abandon when she killed herself. And finally about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open, but which leads to the discovery of a support group and a mysterious member whom Meg often wrote. Although the solution to the mystery of Meg’s death turns out to be a little bit of letdown, I still feel as if Foreman hit upon a unique way of addressing teen suicide.

Why then do I have mixed feelings about I Was Here? For me, the romance dilutes an otherwise promising story. Cody meets tragic guitar hero, because he once dated Meg, who apparently often got hooked on bands. Actually, not only did he once date Meg, at first it seemed Ben might be the main reason for her suicide. While snooping around on Meg’s computer, Cody finds a slew of emails between her best friend and Ben. Those emails reveal that Meg had fallen for Ben, the two had slept together, and then Ben had dumped her. Or at least that’s how the story looks on the surface. Even when Cody discovers that Ben has some of his own secrets that make him redeemable, the relationship between Cody and Ben just doesn’t feel right to me. Ben is her best friend’s ex-boyfriend. It feels wrong for her to almost immediately get involved with him. He also represents the typical bad guy-turned-good. In a novel that in most other ways avoid stereotypes, I felt disappointed that the love story was rather cliché.

Some fans of Gayle Foreman have declared that I Was Here is NOT their favorite of her books. For me, despite some flaws, I Was Here reveals Foreman as a strong voice in young adult realistic fiction. I’ll be watching for other novels by Foreman to read.

My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.

How would you rate this book?

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