I Was Here

Book review by
Sandie Angulo Chen, Common Sense Media
I Was Here Book Poster Image
Emotional story about the devastating effects of suicide.

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Kids say

age 14+
Based on 4 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

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.

Positive Messages

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 & Representations

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

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.

Sex

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.

Language

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.

Consumerism

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.

What 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.

User Reviews

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Teen, 14 years old Written bygreenloversara July 17, 2015
Teen, 16 years old Written byJflores14 February 6, 2015

disturbing tale of love, friendship, and suicide

this book by Gayle Forman is interesting, yet pretty disturbing with its content about suicide. With frank sexual dialogue and some incredibly strong language,... Continue reading

What's the story?

I WAS HERE opens with 18-year-old Cody going to yet another memorial for her best friend Meg, who committed suicide by checking into a motel, drinking an industrial poison, and sending time-delay emails to her parents and Cody. After Meg's grieving parents ask Cody to head to Meg's college housing and pack up her stuff, Cody reluctantly agrees to spare them the extra pain. While going through Meg's stuff, she reads personal emails between Meg and a rocker boy named Ben she had hooked up with in Seattle, and she begins to obsess over an encrypted file found in the laptop's trash. Because Cody had stayed in their working-class town while Meg went to college, they hadn't talked as often in the months leading up to Meg's death. But now all Cody can do is find out exactly what could have led Meg to take her own life -- a journey that forces Cody to confront Ben, talk to Meg's housemates, and figure out the mystery of Meg.

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.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the way the book portrays social media, especially websites that seem to support and encourage suicide. Do you think these sites are dangerous? Should they be monitored, or do people have the right to discuss anything they want?

  • Do books and movies that tackle tough topics such as rape, depression, and suicide provide an important outlet and opportunities for discussion? Are there enough, too few, or too many books about these issues, in your opinion? What can you do to help if you realize your friend is depressed or suicidal?

  • Talk about the romance in the book -- was it the center of the story? Was it believable? How does it compare to other YA romances, particularly Forman's other literary couples?

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