First off, I want to say a massive thank you to Simon and Schuster UK Children's publishers for accepting my request for an early copy of this book from NetGalley, and a huge thank you to NetGalley for the service they provide.
If you haven't heard of Gayle Forman, I don't know who you are or where you've been hiding, because you're missing out on brilliant books. Before 'I Was Here', I'd only read the 'If I Stay' duology but I adore both of those novels and I've heard amazing things about the 'Just One Day' duology even though I haven't got around to reading them yet, so my hopes were extremely high for this book, and I did not end up disappointed.
'I Was Here' is in a similar vein to 'If I Stay', in that it focuses upon a serious plot that really makes you contemplate the issues that the characters are going through. Cody's best friend, Meg, commits suicide and Cody finds it extremely hard to deal with the situation, as she hadn't seen any signs of Meg being depressed in the past. However, Meg recently received an extremely lucrative scholarship and went off to college, leaving Cody stewing at home, feeling more bitter towards her best friend with every happy informative email she receives. The fact that they've grown apart over the last few months fills Cody with a sense of guilt and she blames herself completely for the fact that Meg has killed herself, leading to her investigating the events occurring before her death and attempting to solve the mystery of why she did it.
A lot of the books I've read that have had a focus upon suicide have been bordering upon triggering, with some people claiming that the books have made them feel worse about their problems, so a sensitive subject like this is really hard to deal with. However, even with that hurdle to overcome, Gayle Forman has written a spectacular book that deals with the subject in a sensitive and enlightening way. The discussions about the feelings of the people left behind are heart-wrenching but eye-opening, as the second-hand victims of suicide are often completely forgotten.
Even though the book does focus mainly on Meg's suicide and the grieving and healing that Cody goes through in the following months, it also deals with the subplots very well as well. Learning not to judge people at first glance is a big theme throughout the book: when we're introduced to Meg's roommates, we encounter Stoner Richard, but as his back story unfolds later in the novel we get to know a completely different side to him, and it's the same with Ben, originally the spoilt and uncaring rock star, but who turns into an emotional and caring person, showing that death really does change everyone that it touches, some people even for the better. Also touched upon is the fact that grief brings people together, with Cody and Ben's friendship only developing because of Meg being their mutual friend, and Cody's friendship circle increasing dramatically following the loss of the person that is closest to her.
Similarly, the question of what is a real family is touched upon quite a lot in the subplots, with Cody constantly craving the company of Meg's family following her suicide, even though she feels awkward being near them. The question of what is a stable family unit is brought up multiple times, when comparing Meg's family of a mother, father and two children with Cody's family only being her and her mother, and it's interesting to see how different families work with different dynamics - maybe not always one hundred percent successfully, but functioning in their own ways.
Of course I recommend this book, because I recommend everything that Gayle Forman ever writes. It's a quick read, because once you get sucked into Cody's investigation you can't help but fly through this novel to get to the conclusion, but I've got a feeling it's going to keep me thinking for a long time into the future. The philosophical quotes littered throughout will make you reconsider some of the opinions you had that you thought were fixed, and you will leave this novel feeling emotional but with a sense of closure, just as many people feel after loss. The emotions written in this novel are so visceral, peppered through with Cody's gallows humour, that you can't help but go on the rollercoaster ride with her, and you will feel as though you've been through the ringer afterwards, but it's such a refreshing feeling.