Google+ YA Romantics: Just Finished Reading … When You Were Here

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Just Finished Reading … When You Were Here

Review of When You Were Here
by Daisy Whitney
To be published by Little, Brown BFYR
on June 4, 2013

Source: invite widget for e-ARC from the publisher.

Connect with the author: blog : Twitter : Facebook.




Summary (adapted from Goodreads:) Danny's mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation -- the one day that she was hanging on to see.  Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn't know how to figure out what to do with his mom's estate, what to say for his graduation speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore. When he gets a letter from his mom's property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother's memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.

The short version: This book is fantastic!  A beautiful, moving, life-affirming must-read for fans of Where She Went and Just One Day by Gayle Forman, Golden by Jessi Kirby, The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson.

The longer take:  If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know that I've been trying -- and loving -- lots of stuff outside my comfort zone lately: aliens, zombies, werewolves, and clones. But my heart always beats a little faster when I find a fantastic contemporary/realistic YA, a book that doesn't need any paranormal bells and whistles or stakes-raising post-apocalyptic disasters to tell a gripping and heartfelt story.

I suppose you could call When You Were Here a "grief book," but I'm not overly fond of that term. It's a little flippant.  Plus, it just sounds depressing. And while there is plenty of loss in this book -- tragedy and death and broken relationships -- it is not depressing at all.

Okay, so what is this book about, you ask? It's about a teenage boy coping with two enormous losses -- his mother's death and the fact that the girl he loved broke up with him without explanation. Danny's angry and confused and hurting and acting out. Since his father is also dead, Danny's mom's best friend is looking out for him, but -- awkward! -- she's also the mother of the girl who perfunctorily dumped him.

Danny spent a lot of time in Japan growing up,  and when he gets a letter from the property manager of an apartment owned by his family, he decides to jet off to Tokyo. His mother had been consulting a doctor there, and he hopes that this doctor can give him some answers about his mom: why had she stopped taking her medicine? Why couldn't she have held on for his graduation? How can the world just go on when he's lost so much?

Danny has lost a lot. First his father died, then his sister seemed to turn her back on their family, then his girlfriend broke up with him, and then he lost his mother. As the book progresses, it become apparent that all of these people were keeping secrets from one another, secrets that were pushing them apart.

At one point I got a little worried that When You Were Here was cheating with that whole "characters who don't talk to each other" plot device. You know, those books in which a simple conversation would clear up all the misunderstandings?  Then I realized that this book was actually about people who don't, or, more likely, just can't figure out how to talk to each other. Sometimes explaining ourselves and understanding others can be really hard. Danny's sister was adopted as a baby and is in China reconnecting with her roots. Danny's ex-girlfriend, Holland, has yet to explain why she pulled away from him. Danny's mother didn't tell him that she'd stopped taking her medication.

Danny's time in Japan -- in which he is an outsider who doesn't understand everything going on around him -- makes a nice parallel for his complete confusion about his own life.  I've been to Japan several times and, though I don't speak the language or claim to be an expert on the culture, loved the way When You Were Here highlighted some of my favorite things about Japan, like the way traditional culture co-exists with pop culture and technology. The food. The bustle that is punctuated by pockets of peace and quiet.

The book also uses Danny's travels to highlight the fact that sometimes the people who can understand us the best are people who are nothing like us on the surface, that we are born into a family, but we can also make a family too. As Danny meets people in Japan who knew his mother -- including her doctor and a quirky girl named Kana-- he begins to understand -- and to feel understood. He begins to work through his grief. Slowly, the pieces of his life begin to fall back together. I loved that the ending of the book was hopeful and happy, yet not perfect either.

If you love books that really make you think and feel, you've got to read this one!

30 comments:

  1. I was looking forward to this one but then I read some less than enthusiastic reviews of it and my excitement waned; luckily you've perked it back up-contemporary is my genre too and I am looking forward to diving into some this summer!

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    1. Really? That surprises me. I mean, no book is for everyone, of course.

      This book definitely has some mature aspects and I think it will most appeal to older teen readers and adult readers of YA. Since you and I usually agree on books, I'll be curious to see what you think.

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  2. I have this ARC and have been hearing such good things. I can't wait to read it!

    Kate @ Ex Libris

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  3. Yeah, if you'd told me this was a "grief book", I'd have said "Pass." So, I'm glad that it's not just that. :) I do so hate when the characters don't communicate in a book simply to force misunderstandings and hardships. Glad to hear that miscommunication serves a different purpose in this story. Thanks for sharing your review, Jen...I probably wouldn't have given this book a second glance, otherwise.

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    1. That just sounds sooooo depressing, right? And yes, I hate when non-communication is used as a plot device. But in this book, all the characters are going through stuff and are having a hard time talking about it..

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  4. Seeing you write how fantastic this book was in bold really has me changing my mind and adding this to my TBR. I wasn't so sure at first, but I think I might like this too. :)

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    1. Try it!! I did tear up a little -- maybe a lot -- but it was such a hopeful book too..

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  5. Beautiful and moving sounds great!

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    1. I think you will love this one, knowing your taste in books :)

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  6. Wow, this book sounds fantastic. Not that I would expect anything less from Daisy Whitney, but your review makes it seem like the book takes a different direction than I would have expected-one that sounds awesome! Can't wait to get my hands on it.

    Taylor @ Reading is the Thing

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    1. I've only read one of her other books - she also has one called Starry Nights (? I think) coming out soon.

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  7. Loved this review! This book sounds fab and something I need to read. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. I'll be honest, when I saw this book start popping up on everyone's WoW and TBR lists, I was definitely not feeling it. Because it really did look like a GRIEF book, which I didn't like. I do think the Japanese element is fascinating, although I've never been there, and it's good to hear that this book isn't depressing (like it sounds). Maybe I'll pick this one up, after all. Great review, Jen!
    -Natalie @Natflix&Books

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  9. Wow, I had no desire to read this until I read your review! Now I'm absolutely going to read it. First of all, I love books where the character takes a revelatory journey abroad, and mentioning this book alongside Jessi Kirby, Gayle Forman and Jandy Nelson's books, and I'm definitely on board. Fantastic review Jen! :-)

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  10. oh wow.. great find! I myself enjoy realistic sounding books from time to time! Wonderful review, it sounds like a very beautiful and emotional book.

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  11. Oh gosh, you're making me wish I had taken this for review! There's never enough time. This really sounds like an amazing story and I look forward to reading it.

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  12. I've also been reading a lot outside of my comfort zone these days, but that is actually contemporary lit in my case. More specifically, issues-driven contemporary lit, like grief books. I've found, however, that I can only read a few of those type of books at a time before I need to switch to a new genre. But I have enjoyed what I've read, and it sounds like When You Were Here may be a nice addition to my current repertoire. I love how you described that the culture shock is reminiscent of the emotional confusion going on with the protagonist. And I love the fact the protagonist is a guy. I'll have to keep this book in mind as a potential contemporary read.

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  13. I hadn't heard of this book, but your review of it definitely has me interested! Going to add this one to the TBR :-)

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  14. Oh wow, Jen. I don't think I've even heard of this book until now. I feel all emotional just from your review. I should definitely read this.

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  15. There's a lot about this one that appeals to me. The male POV and the fact that you said that it's not all depressing. I haven't read one of her books yet, though I do have one. But I gotta say, I'm REALLY wanting to read this one now!

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  16. Ohh this sounds like a book I would love. I had heard of it, but I haven't really heard about it yet. This is the first review I have read. I love books with a male POV and books that make you feel! Awesome review hon!!

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  17. I'm not always a fan of the "darker" side of contemporary (the ones with all the emotions) but this one sounds really good and I'm always up for a male POV.

    Also, you've been to Japan??? Awesome!

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  18. When I first saw this book, I tagged it as a depressing read, but I'm glad that it wasn't and now I really want to read Danny's story. It seems a little sad seeing that his parents are dead and he lives with his ex-gf's house. Talk about Awkward! But a hopeful ending sounds great. I'll look forward to it, Jen!

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  19. I'm not reading this yet (why do you always manage to read/review before I do?!) but I peeked at your last line and I'm happy to see that you enjoyed it! I'm really looking forward to this one.

    Wendy @ The Midnight Garden

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  20. Oh, I can't wait to read this book. I so do not need to be spending any $ on books but this one is calling my name!! You know how much I love ALL those books you compare this to: Just One Day, Where She Went, Golden and my favorite book of all time, The Sky is Everywhere. You KNOW, Jen!

    And I love that this is set in Japan. The last couple of books I have read that take place there were awesome and had me so curious to learn more about that culture, but when the blurb talks about a Harajuku girl, I TOTALLY knew what that meant w/ out having to look it up, so exciting(I know, quel dork.)

    And thank you for pointing out this:

    "At one point I got a little worried that When You Were Here was cheating with that whole characters who don't talk to each other" plot device. You know, those books in which a simple conversation would clear up all the misunderstandings?"

    Thanks for letting me know that this was not the case in this book after all because you know how much that irks me too:)

    Super review! I'm so excited to read this, Jen!!

    (sorry for the lengthy comment!)

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  21. Ooh! This does sound good. Think I might have to get a copy of this!

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  22. This sounds really depressing but I am glad it isn't depressing at all. Lack of communication is the root of most problems. I am curious as to what all the secrets these people were keeping like why his mom stopped her medicine but didn't tell him. I can understand not want to prolong the pain but seems weird she wouldn't tell him. I would love to travel to Japan!

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