A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Readers will learn about various classic rock bands and will be warned about the destructive nature of certain websites that support those who want to commit suicide.
There are powerful messages in I Was Here about the importance of getting and asking for help if you're depressed and feeling suicidal. The book makes it clear that other people can't "save" their friends, but they can speak out if they notice certain behaviors. It also encourages teens not to limit themselves to one friend, because no one can be another person's be-all and end-all. It's great to have a best friend, but it's also important to have a couple other people you can trust. Cody's time with Meg's housemates also demonstrates that people aren't always how you imagine; Christian, tree hugger, vegan, rocker -- these are just labels, and people are more than a label.
Positive Role Models
Cody is determined and intelligent but also emotionally fragile throughout the book. In the end she realizes she needs to live -- and live fully -- even though her friend couldn't. Meg's parents are generous and kind, and they are concerned for Cody and how she's handling Meg's death. Richard, Harry, and Alice all want to help Cody, even though they never got to know Meg that well. Despite his facade, Ben cares deeply about Cody.
Violence & Scariness
Discussions of suicide, various ways to plan and commit it, and the specific way that Meg decides to end her life. Cody makes a few unwise and unsafe decisions and luckily isn't hurt in the process.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
References to a loss of virginity and some specific details about what happened during two different first times (one is a flashback, one occurs in the course of the book). Ben refers to sex as "f--king," and he admits he's a "player" who sleep with a lot of young women. Cody knows most people don't believe she, coming from her background, is a virgin. Cody recalls how her mom sleeps with guys but at least does it at their places.
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Frequent strong language: "f--k" (as an expletive and often as the crass term for sex), "s--t," "dick," "a--hole," "bitch," "douche," and more.
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Products & Purchases
McDonald's, Apple products.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Stoner Richard likes to smoke pot and offers Cody marijuana on a few occasions. Ben chain-smokes cigarettes. People (some of them college-age but not yet 21) drink at home and at various music clubs. Cody abstains from drinking and smoking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that I Was Here is a realistic teen novel by best-selling young-adult author Gayle Forman that focuses on an 18-year-old dealing with the aftermath of her best friend's suicide. The book explores how it's impossible to know everything about another person, especially if they are good about hiding depression or suicidal thoughts. An intense read with disturbing details about how a talented, passionate young woman found an online group to encourage her to commit suicide, I Was Here deals with many tough subjects, such as suicide, unhealthy sexual relationships, and clinical depression. Because of the subject matter, the frequent strong language (including "f--k" and "s--t"), and candid references to sex and substance use in college, this is a book best suited for mature high schoolers.
Is It Any Good?
Gayle Forman is known throughout the literary YA community as a master of evoking "the feels" with her stories, and I Was Here definitely delivers on that front. Cody's sadness is visceral and haunting; Meg was the only friend she had -- the only friend she needed. And for most of the book, Cody's journey is an emotional mystery of figuring out the bits and pieces of Meg's secret college life. It's touching when Cody connects with Meg's roommates -- Christian stoner Richard, kind computer geek Harry, and free spirit Alice -- in a way Meg never did. As Cody finds out more about Meg -- an indie rock enthusiast who spent a lot of time in small Seattle clubs socializing with budding bands and crushing on players (in both senses of the word) like Ben -- she realizes there were layers to her best friend even she didn't know.
The main reason this book isn't getting the typical Forman four- or five-star review is that it includes a dramatic twist that felt both unwise for Cody and unnecessary to the plot. Without spoiling any specifics, let's just say there's a Catfish-like development that went a step too far for this reader's comfort. Although the romance wasn't central to the story, as it was in If I Stay and the Just One Day duologes, it was threaded throughout to show how different Meg and Cody were to the same guy, hipster guitarist Ben. If you're expecting another epic love story, this isn't it. Instead, it's a complicated slow burn between the kind of guy parents warn their daughters about and an inexperienced girl who makes him change his spots. Not sure that happens often in real life, but if anyone can sell that sort of connection, it's Forman.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.