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I Was Here by Gayle Forman

In so many ways, I hate this book. Cody is so stupid and immature and does not think before she acts. It is easily the most depressing of the books I have read for National Mental Health Month. Everyone in it is bitchy and moody and lies so much. I wanted to yell at all of them.

In so many ways, I loved this book. This book reads like I am watching the lives of these people unfold in front of me. I really felt like a fly on the wall, watching everyone's lives fall apart and come back together. And as much as I hated everyone's moodiness throughout it, that's what makes it so real. In this book, the characters are: upset, depressed, manipulative, insincere, happy, crazy, funny, hangry, tired, worn out, and every emotion that I have ever felt. If someone were to write a book about me, the reader would definitely see all of those emotions in me, including the ones I'm not proud of.



Plot

I Was Here starts the day that Cody receives an e-mail from her best friend, Meg, saying that she has already committed suicide. Meg sent this e-mail to Cody, her parents, and the police. Poison. That's how she did it. Cody never saw it coming. So when she finds out that the Meg she has known since Kindergarten and the Meg who was at the University of the Cascades were two different people. Her Meg was fun, vivacious, and everyone loved her; but this Meg slept all day, pushed herself on people, and had given up.

When Cody goes to Meg's apartment to clean out her stuff, she finds Meg's laptop, where a huge chuck of e-mails are missing and there is an encrypted file that Cody thinks will give her some answers. What she finds is that a boy, Ben McAllister, broke Meg's heart and that Meg was heavily involved with a suicide "support" group that helped her plan her suicide.

Cody dives into the computer and Meg's life, determined to find out what happened for real, because the Meg she knew never would have done this. She finds herself relying on Ben, and Meg's former roommates Alice, Stoner Richard, and Harry to find out everything she can, and eventually find the guy she thinks gave Meg the idea and pushed her to take her life, a person on a website Meg used with the username all_bs.

Through all of this, Cody is trying to deal with her mom, Tricia, who has never really been a mom (she even told a 2 year old Cody to call her Trisha because she was too young to be a mom) and Meg's parents, Joe and Sue. While Joe and Sue are grieving and Cody feels the pressure to find out more to help them, Tricia bad mouths Meg by saying:

"'She had everything. Those big brains. Fancy college scholarship. She even had that expensive computer you can't seem to get off of....You just had me. And you're smart, don't get me wrong, but you aren't Meg-smart. You got stuck at the shitty junior college and now, from what I can tell, you don't even have that...' Thank you Tricia, for such a precise overview of my inferiority. "But even with the deck stacked against you, you stuck to your guns,' Tricia continues on her tear....'My point is, you never quit on dance, on math, on anything, and maybe you had more reason to. You had a pile of rocks, and you cleaned them up pretty and made a necklace. Meg got jewels, and she hung herself with them.'" (pp. 150-151)

But through all of the negativity, Cody finds the guy who she blames for Meg's death, all_bs, or in the real world, Bradford Smith. So Cody embarks on a trip with Ben to Laughlin, Nevada. On her way there, she has a meaningful evening with Stoner Richard's family, and takes a detour to find her dad. But once in Laughlin, Bradford is the only thing she can think about.



When she find him, she is disgusted. He is a middle aged man who lives in a crappy apartment and who gets his powerful quotes from Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, and the worst part, he has a teenage son. After Cody yells at him and he informs her that he never told Meg or her to do anything, he just gave them the information they were asking for, she realizes he is right, and she begins to break down.



After an emotional night and morning with Ben, Cody is all but relieved when Tricia calls panicked and gets her a plane ticket to come home. Upon arriving home, she tells Tricia everything from the very beginning. Tricia tells her that she needs to tell Joe and Sue what she has found out, which she does. But the reaction that she expects does not come.

Joe and Sue knew that their daughter suffered from depression and had been on medication since the 10th grade when Meg had suffered her first clinical episode, which Meg had always told her that she had had mono. They all hid it because they knew the stigma that would follow her if people knew, and since Sue suffered from it as well, she didn't want her daughter to be burdened with it as well. But when Meg went to college, she stopped taking her medication, and things went down from there. They were in the process of forcing Meg's hand when Meg seemed to bounce back, and then she killed herself. 

One year after Meg's death, everything has seem to come full circle. Meg's body has finally been cremated; Cody is in college again and  has built a better relationship with her mom; and everyone can breathe a little easier.

What I Liked
  • Like I said earlier, when you read this, it is like you are watching everything unfold before you. Partly, it's because Gayle Forman is an amazing writer. But the other part is this situation is so real and raw, it's hard not to.
  • I love Stoner Richard. He's not a huge part of the story, but when he is there, he's amazing. And, in my honest opinion, he delivers one of the best lines in the novel. When Cody, Ben, and Richard are talking about how Cody tracked down all_bs by acting like she was depressed, and Cody tells them that she found the part of herself that didn't want to exist anymore, Richard says "Everyone goes there. Everyone has their days. Everyone imagines it." (p. 203) And this I know to be true. Everyone has a time in their life, or even times, where they get so rundown, they think about not existing. That doesn't mean they're suicidal, or necessarily depressed. But the thing to do when you're feeling you're at your breaking point, reach out and let someone know how you're feeling. Just talking about it can help so much.
  • The slow building love between Cody and Ben breaks up some of the sadness. I don't think they'll make it long because they fight a lot, but they're sweet.

What I Didn't Like
  • This book is depressing. As Cody searches for the part of herself that doesn't want to survive so that all_bs will reach out to her, you yourself go down a spiral with her. This book has a lot of negativity in it. Not a lot of good happens in it. Even Cody's memories of times before Meg took her life are upsetting. 
  • Ben is an asshole. I know he had a horrible father figure growing up and it's part of his rocker mystic, but he's an asshole. Cody does some shitty things to him too, I won't pretend she wasn't, but I feel the toxic relationship building, which is why I don't think they'll last long.
Overall Thoughts

You know what I liked most about this book? It talks about the stigma that people with mental illnesses face. Granted, it's not until the end, but it's part of the reveal. Like, everyone but you and Cody knew that Meg had been facing this for years and because her parents didn't want to add to her burden, no one else knew.

This is what Mental Health Month is all about! Demolishing the stigma behind the disorders. Just because you suffer from depression or are bipolar or are agoraphobic or suffer from anxiety, it does not make you any less of a person and you deserve so much respect. You do not deserve to be treated like a second class citizen just because you aren't like everyone else. The day I told my brother that I suffered from anxiety and something he said set me off, it was the most freeing day of my life. He didn't know, and yes, he looked sad for me, but it also made sense. People who are perfectly healthy don't just run down Hollywood Blvd and hide in a random Starbucks because they had a fight with a family member. Since then, I am more open about talking my anxiety and past depression (clearly). Does everyone take it as well as my brother did? No. But most of them do. And as long as I am taking care of myself, that's all that matters.



Again, I know I put this information in my review for Thirteen Reasons Why, but it is important, and it can't be said enough. These are the warning signs listed on the SAVE website if someone is contemplating suicide.
  • Talking about wanting to die or kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as research or buying a gun.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious or agitated; being reckless.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawn or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Preoccupation with death.
  • Suddenly happier, calmer.
  • Loss of interest in things one cares about.
  • Visiting or calling people to say goodbye.
  • Making arrangements; setting ones affairs in order.
  • Giving things away, such as prized possessions.
In an emergency, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Please, do not be afraid to reach out to someone if you are or if you know someone who is contemplating suicide. It's a cliche, but it's always darkest before the dawn. Please, reach out if you need to.

Rating: 6/10
Pages: 270 (paperback)
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction

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