“I don’t know if I had ever really listened to the words before, because when I did now, they were like a smack from her grave. It says you can still forgive her. And she will forgive you back.
But I don’t know that I can. And I don’t know that she did.”
– Cody Reynolds, I Was Here
Gayle Forman, author of books such as If I Stay, Where She Went, and Just One Day brings readers I Was Here, the story of one young woman’s search for answers in the wake of a tragedy. Meg and Cody were best friends. Where Meg ended, Cody began. They knew everything about each other. Except they didn’t. Not even close. Because Cody had no idea that her best friend was so depressed that she needed to swallow poison to make the pain go away. When someone takes their life unexpectedly, it’s natural for those around them to question why they didn’t see any warning signs. It’s also understandable to look for some reasoning behind their decision.
As humans we’re conditioned to ask questions about situations that leave us confused. Why? Because answers help us cope. Help us move on. And we cannot move on until we reach a conclusion, a finality in our quest for answers. So when Meg’s grieving parents ask their daughter’s best friend, Cody, who is like a second daughter to them, to pick up Meg’s stuff from school, she accepts, albeit reluctantly. Although combing through the remainders of Meg’s life feels all wrong for Cody, she continues doing so. While picking up Meg’s belongings, she meets her former roommates who were just as in the dark about Meg’s suicide as her parents and Cody, her supposed best friend. Cody also stumbles upon Ben McCallister, the guy who broke Meg’s heart.
Cody is looking for someone to blame – someone other than herself that is – for Meg’s heartache. At first, the person that fits that bill is Ben. Even more so after she finds e-mail after e-mail from Meg to Ben that for the most part go unanswered. There is one poignant response from Ben, however; the one where he tells Meg she needs to leave him alone. If only he knew the lengths she would go to to satisfy that request. Only it’s not that simple. Even Cody knows that. Most college freshmen don’t kill themselves over unrequited feelings. When Meg’s parents insist Cody keep Meg’s laptop, Cody gets an insight into her best friend’s world that she never saw coming. Meg had joined a suicide support group. But it’s not the type of group that dissuades suicide. Oh, no. It is one that encourages it.
This is a discovery that leaves Cody reeling and angry. Angry that people – specifically one person – would goad her obviously confused best friend into killing herself. This person and this group need to pay. Fueled by a myriad of emotions, Cody hatches a plan. She makes a profile for the page and begins to post in an attempt to lure out the man who helped Meg take her own life. And at first, Cody knows it’s all lies. But in a way, it’s also the truth. When she writes about losing her other half in Meg, she isn’t lying. And even though Cody goes into this knowing it’s a hoax, it doesn’t make it any less intoxicating when she is able to make contact with the user going by the name “All_BS,” fitting for an individual who offers death as a solution to those who are lost.
In addition to playing detective, Cody also struggles to keep her distance from Ben, who is intoxicating on a whole other level. He’s able to get under a skin in a way nobody else can, but it’s so wrong. So very wrong. Because this is the same guy who broke Meg’s heart. Between tracking down All_BS and her attempts to not fall into Ben’s trap like the many girls before her and Meg, Cody is barely holding it together. Maybe it would be easier to just end her own life the same way Meg did. After all, they were best friends, were they not?
Forman is able to take a book that appears to be about suicide and turn it into a story that is really much more. And she does it with extreme talent. At its core, I Was Here is about friendship, love, family, and finding oneself in a world that is more vague than certain. It’s about letting go while finding a way to hold on. And lastly, it’s about forgiveness; for those who are no longer with us and for those who still are and most importantly, for ourselves.
Fans who enjoyed Forman’s If I Stay will surely devour I Was Here. I certainly did.