Cody is shocked and completely undone when her best friend Meg commits suicide by drinking a bottle of cleaner in a lonely motel room. She and Meg were so inseparable that it seems literally unbelievable that she would do something like this without Cody having an inkling of a feeling it were possible. When Cody goes to Meg’s college to pack up her room, she realizes that she and Meg weren’t as close as she thought.
Forman’s latest offering had a good deal of early buzz because Forman is, on the whole, a good writer and has connected with teens the world over. But upon its release, this one started to get mixed reviews. Unfortunately this novel doesn’t live up to the hype and actually is a disconcerting let down of a novel. A troubling portrayal of mental health issues gets swallowed up by an ill-placed romance, and the result is a muddled, potentially damaging mess.
Part of the problem is that Forman frames Meg’s suicide as the book’s central mystery. While it’s understandable that Cody might have trouble coming to terms with the fact that Meg took her own life, the way the reveal happens (and the fact that there’s a “reveal” at all when it comes to Meg’s death) feels like a bizarre way to talk about mental illness and depression. It feels cheap to use Meg’s depression as a sort of plot twist, and it only adds to the stigma that surrounds depression in today’s society.
Another issue is that Cody’s burgeoning relationship with Ben, a dude she meets on her journey to figure out what happened to Meg. The romance ends up taking over a large portion of the narrative, which feels out of place in a novel purporting to be about the process of healing after a trauma. Also worth noting is that the romance never fully gels on the page, making it feel even more shoehorned in than it would otherwise. There’s nothing natural here.
Forman has proven before that she’s a talented writer, and there are certainly teens who will pick this one up and enjoy it. If they’re there for the romance, they might be fairly satiated. If a reader is looking for a nuanced exploration of grief, loss, and the impacts of suicide and depression, they’re likely to be disappointed (if not deeply unsettled). There are better books out there. Disappointing.
I Was Here by Gayle Forman. Viking Juvenile: 2015. Library copy.