July 31, 2013

Latest Read: When You Were Here

Here are the basics ...
When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney
Publication date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Category: Young Adult - Contemporary
Source: Present from Alexa (Thanks!)

Summary: 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 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 Danny travels to Tokyo to make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the temples, and crowds, and with the help of a sorta Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient mystical treatments that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died. (Adapted goodreads.com)
My thoughts…
The good: There were so many things I loved about When You Were Here that I almost don't know where to start. On the surface, it's the story of Danny and how he struggles with being alone in his grief. His father died six years ago, his adopted sister checked out of their family soon after that, the love of his life broke up with him without explanation and now, he's lost his mother to cancer. The only sure thing in his life is his dog Sandy Koufax. Then he gets a letter from his mom's property manager for their apartment in Tokyo and he sees that as a sign to go there. To get answers, find some peace. Maybe even learn to be happy again.

I loved Danny as a narrator. He felt so real and honest and his thoughts unfiltered by any (excuse my language) bullshit. With a lot of the male characters I've read, their sensitive sides tend to come out when there's a girl involved (which does happen here too). But we get this moving glimpse into what Danny's parents meant to him too. The lessons he learned from them, conversations, jokes, memories, missing their voices and things we probably all take for granted. Thoughts like these are littered throughout the book and each little anecdote packed an emotional punch.

When Danny decides to go to Tokyo, he's on a mission. A few actually. He needs to get away from the girl who broke his heart but he also needs to find out what happened during his mother's last stay in Tokyo and why her miracle doctor there couldn't save her. He thinks knowing these things will bring him closure and I don't blame him. But one of the highlights of his stay in Tokya was Kana, the daughter of the property manager. They strike up a funny and natural friendship which the book (and Danny) needed. I loved seeing Tokyo through his eyes and also seeing the new meaning in past events in his life as some of his mother's secrets came to light.

(Minor) reservations: There is romance in this book and it's the kind I love. Two people who have been in love with each other since childhood never fails to get to me. So I was eager to find out what happened between them, especially when their feelings for each other were so clear. The sub-plot here takes a very unexpected turn though and I'm still torn as to whether it's a good thing or bad thing. While it heightened the story's intensity, a part of me also thinks it took away from the grief Danny was already processing.

Do I recommend?: Yes! It's a beautiful, well-written story about grief. Once I started, I could barely put it down. Also - I want to visit Tokyo now.

Happy reading!

3 comments:

  1. I love this novel SO SO SO much, Rachel. I'm not blind to its flaws but for me, it was such a heartbreaking yet uplifting novel. I cried while eating hashbrowns at a fastfood. I can't stop reading it even if it keeps on breaking my heart. Great review! <3

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  2. I absolutely loved this book. So much. It's one that I wanted to fly thru but at the same time, I made myself read it slowly so I could savor it. I can see your reservations now that you've pointed them out, but still I think it's one of the better books I've read this year. Plus, what a great cover. Nice review - I love being reminded of this one. Thanks! (:

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  3. Honestly, the biggest draw of this book is that there's a lot of Japan in it. I'm fascinated by the country and the culture, and I love that Danny is able to experience that in the midst of his grief. While I haven't actually read it yet, I get the feeling that I'll absolutely LOVE it when I do. Glad you liked it!

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