Initial reaction: This was a very realistic, while flawed look into one young woman's grief over her best friend's suicide. I liked the attention brought to her grief as well as journeys to understand it, even if some of those steps were rough around the edges and tested my suspension of disbelief.
Gayle Forman's "I Was Here" took me by surprise with how much it resonated with me. While I've appreciated Forman's attention to grief and the emotional journeys her flawed characters have taken in her past narratives, "I Was Here" brought yet another potent story over several tough subjects: depression, suicide, and dealing with grief over the loss of a loved one.
Cody lost her best friend Meg to suicide. Sent to collect Meg's remaining valuables at college, Cody journeys while she grapples with the loss. She struggles to understand how Meg executed a carefully plotted route to her death - from timed emails sent to her loved ones, to ordering the poison that led to her death. Cody's journey leads her through tough encounters with the people Meg left behind as well, in a life that Cody though she knew for her best friend - but truly didn't.
In a sense, I understood Cody's starting point - she's angry, in disbelief, and feels powerless as she wonders what more she could've done to save Meg. Cody also recognizes that Meg was her better half - from getting a scholarship to college to her seemingly boundless energy and a caring family at her side. Cody's life has had some other rough spots, including having a distant relationship with her mother, an absent father, and struggles to make ends meet as a professional cleaner (she cleans homes for a living).
The story moves forward to showcase not only a story of grief and dealing with the aftermath, but also combines elements of a mystery and romance in the unfolding story. This has some mixed results, but I found I liked the overarching journey when it was all considered. The mystery aspect involves taking Cody on a journey to discover what led up to the moments of Meg's death - missing emails unaccounted for, a suicide support group (meaning a group who encouraged Meg to take steps to commit suicide), and a confrontation with a man who might've had a hand in Meg's death. The romance aspect involves Cody metiing Ben, a musician who was involved in a temporary relationship with Meg before her suicide.
I definitely loved the cast of side characters in this book (i.e. Stoner Richard, Harry Kang, who was one of my favorite characters, etc.) and I liked how the mystery was a coming of age/grief journey for Cody as she navigated the relationships and events leading up to Meg's death. It felt realistic for the emotional journey with the people Meg left behind.
Some issues I had in the novel had to do with the lead up to the confrontation with the man involved in Meg's death. That took some suspension of disbelief on my part because of the risk and danger involved with it, though I understood it was a part of Cody coming to terms with Meg's death. The event had symbolic value, but it was still something of a push to not believe something worse could've happened with that, and that the adult reactions weren't more urgent (though Cody's, what, 19?). The other factor was the romance, which involves Ben McCallister. I liked Ben's character well enough progressively, but I think the romance aspect happened really quickly in the scheme of the novel's events. Some of it was realistic, other parts of it sagged from the lack of development. It could've been a little smoother for showing. Plus there was the factor that Ben was in a relationship with Meg before. It was addressed, but I don't know if I was ever fully able to connect with the relationship between Ben and Cody to believe in it without qualms.
That said, I did enjoy the novel for its emotional coming to terms and insights on grief and the measure of moving forward. For me, especially with the very nicely performed audio reading, it was well worth the time taken to read.
Overall score: 4/5 stars.