Review: I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I Was Here

Looks like I’m 0-2 when it comes to Gayle Forman’s novels. And it’s looking less and less likely that I’m willing to give her a third strike to try and turn things around.

The problem is that both of Forman’s books I’ve read have had interesting hooks. The first chapter of I Was Here, where we get the devastating news that Cody’s best friend killed herself using an industrial cleaner but had a time-triggered e-mail that gave friends and family instructions on where to find her is haunting, tragic and the kind of thing you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

The problem is that it’s all downhill from there. A lot of my issues from this book come from how truly unlikeable Cody becomes over the course of the next hundred or so pages. Despite claims about being best friends with Meg (the girl who dies) and her family, Cody comes across as self-absorbed, petty and a person who has extreme issues with her mother. (Mom isn’t going to win mother of the year by any stretch of the imagination but it feels like Cody is far too disrespectful and dismissive of her mother at several points in the novel).

Cody and Meg had plans to go to college together, but those went awry for Cody, who now cleans houses to make ends meet and is flunking out of her local community college. Meg’s family asks Cody to head up to Meg’s college and pack up her dorm room for them, sending all of her personal effects back home. At this point, Cody meets some of Meg’s roommates and college friends as well as snooping into Meg’s life to see what might have led her down the path to suicide.

Turns out there was this guy, who Meg was really into until things went awry. Cody is quick to assume that it must be all the guys’ fault (because it always is!) and blames him. But then she starts to get to know him a bit and the two begin to be attracted to each other. Cody also finds out that Meg spent a lot of time on forums for people looking for the courage to commit suicide and that one particular poster was particularly influential in Meg’s decision to finally go through with her decision. Cody decides the best thing to do is to track this guy down and confront him.

Luckily, one of Meg’s housemates is a super hacker who can find this stuff out and before you know it she’s on a road trip to Las Vegas with Meg’s ex to find and confront this person.

The sheer number of selfish, self-absorbed decisions that Cody makes in the course of this novel is staggering. I’m not quite sure if we’re ever supposed to root for her (I suppose we are), but I couldn’t find myself feeling anything more than that Cody was a selfish girl who was so caught up in herself that she couldn’t see that her (alleged) best friend was crying out for help and had been suffering from depression for three plus years. I also had some huge issues with Cody and Meg’s ex not only getting together but also the completely over the top melodramatic and cliched way they finally declare their love for each other. Honestly, it reminded me of the final conversation from Speed where Sandra Bullock tells Keanu Reeves that relationships started because of stress don’t last, so they’d better base theirs on sex.

I believe the scene in the book was supposed to be a culmination of the entire character arc, but by this point I was so tired of Cody’s petulant, self-righteousness that it felt like yet another terrible decision in a novel full of terrible decisions and characters.

And while maybe that is the point that Forman is trying to make, I still can’t help but walk away from this novel feeling like it was a profound waste of potential.

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