Book Title/Author: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney
Publisher/Year: Little Brown June 4th 2013
Genre: Contemporary YA
Other Books From Author: The Mockingbirds/The Rivals, Starry Nights (out in Fall 2013)
I borrowed this from a very kind friend.
Three weeks before Danny’s graduation, his mom loses her battle with cancer and Danny becomes an orphan. Amidst his grief and hopelessness, a directionless Danny has to try to make it through his graduation and deliver a hopeful Valedictorian speech while trying to make adult decisions about what to do with their home and his mother’s things. On top of it all, the girl who broke his heart by just shutting him out of her life suddenly reappears in his life. When the manager of his family’s apartment in Japan, where Danny’s mom had spending some of her final months for treatment, sends a letter that reveals to him that maybe he didn’t know all about his mother’s final months and why she seemed so happy in them. With nagging questions and sense of purposelessness that has made him numb, Danny takes a trip around the world to Japan to if he can find the answers and reconnect with his mother through these memories
I read this book back in January, wrote my Save the Date for it immediately and my heart is still bursting at the seams with my love for it remembering the emotional journey I took with Danny. I can say it’s one of the best 2013 books I’ve read so far and for sure a new favorite. I instantly knew I wanted to read this book when I first creeped the catalog because the story was about a boy whose mom, who wanted to see him graduate high school, passes away from brain cancer 3 weeks before he graduates. I nearly cried just reading the summary because that was my mom’s wish to see us graduate which, luckily for us, she did. I’m always drawn to stories of grief in YA and I knew this was going to hit close to the heart. It did in fact make me sob and sob and sob.
When You Were Here was just all around beautiful. It steamrolls through your heart and then you realize, by the last page, that Daisy Whitney has been so subtly rebuilding those pieces of your heart ensuring that it’s still intact. It’s a story of loss and love but also of the courage and strength you must possess to make it through both. It’s more than just a story about a boy who loses his mom. It’s about how we move forward in all of these things that life throws our way. I definitely connected to the grief portion for personal reasons but, without a doubt, the things that Danny grapples with are things I think a lot of people will connect with.
I loved the physical and emotional journey Danny takes to Tokyo to retrieve his mother’s belongings and looking for answers to what his mom was doing with her time in those last months. I loved how Danny tries to feel the spirit of his mom in the city they loved so much and Daisy Whitney makes the city comes alive as Danny visits the fish market, ambles along the twisted streets or admiring the cherry blossoms. The spunky daughter of the caretaker, Kana, was one of my favorite characters and her spirit just radiated vibrantly which really was this surge of brightness that was a nice balance to the grief and sorrow Danny was feeling. She was the perfect tour guide and really helped him understand some of what his mom was doing and to start the healing process by reminding him to keep LIVING. I love how he learns more about his mom through Kana and her mother and also through the city she spent so much time in, that in turn, help him through this process and learn a lot about himself.
I connected so much with Danny and love the way he was written — one of THE best male POVS I’ve read in YA that was both emotional and felt like HOW A REAL GUY THOUGHT/TALKED. None of this “what the hell kind of boy talks or acts like that?” that I’ve encountered so often. Having watched my now husband grapple with his own grief I felt that some of the things were so realistic for how some guys might deal with things versus how I did.
I think the ONLY way I didn’t connect with him was with the whole ex girlfriend thing. There is this whole THING surrounding them and their breakup and how she just up and left — it was a little bit hard to swallow and I really struggled to connect with HER which hindered my ability to understand Danny’s love for her. We get a little of a background of THEM but I felt like I just never FELT what they shared. There are things that will make you understand her more but I just would have liked to truly feel what he felt for her. I was at such a distance from her whereas, even though his mother wasn’t alive during the book, I felt like I REALLY got to know her and feel the depth of their relationship.
Aside from the emotional grief aspect of this novel there is something that happens that is of the rollercoaster stomach dropping variety and completely took me off guard. I didn’t expect it and it pretty much laid me out emotionally. Big sobby mess over here when I read it — snot nose and all. (I’m so delightful, aren’t I?) I just didn’t see it coming at all.
When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney is one of my newest favorite contemporaries. It’s definitely an emotional read with moments that will steamroll right through your heart but also a good balance of ones that will uplift and remind you how much strength the human spirit has and how resilient we are in love and loss. Loved the realistic male perspective and I connected with him and his physical and emotional journey to work through his grief throughout the novel (with the aside of fully FEELING this connection to his ex girlfriend). It’s a beautifully written story through and through and I highly recommend it if you are a fan of YA contemporary that is more of an emotional, not so light read. ALSO, favorite pet in YA in this book!
Let’s Talk: Have you read this one?? Heard of it? If you’ve read it, did you enjoy it or feel different than me? Did you see the THING coming or were you surprised like I was?