It's been a while since I've read something as stark as I WAS HERE, the first book by Gayle Forman I've had the pleasure of reading. I knew that going in - the description made it very clear what I WAS HERE is about:
When her best friend, Meg, drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, and some secrets of his own. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question. [From the publisher]
I've written before about my own struggles with mental health. Depression and bipolar disorder run in my family; my maternal aunt took her own life almost ten years ago. I was twenty at the time, and my aunt and I weren't that close, but it certainly gave me the framework for empathy with Cody's own loss.
Though the description almost makes it sound like a thriller - Cody trying to uncover Meg's secrets - the thrills are emotional. I WAS HERE is about survival after a devastating loss. It's about blame and forgiveness. It's about the terrifying notion that you might not know those closest to you as well as you think.
It's about fighting the stigma of mental illness. Knowing the warning signs. Being unafraid to talk openly about the uncomfortable truths of depression and bipolar disorder.
It's about finding hope and redemption in the unlikeliest of places, and finding meaning in life.
I WAS HERE is about so much. I wish I could do it justice. But it moved me, deeply, and I hope it finds its way into the hands of everyone who needs it.