Sunday, June 9, 2013
Loss and Love: When You Were Here
LB Teen, 2013
*ARC provided by LB Teen - Thank You!!*
Daisy Whitney is no stranger to writing stories that pack an emotional punch, and she does it again in her latest novel When You Were Here.
Danny has lost almost everyone in his life who he has ever loved. His father died a few years ago, his sister has basically abandoned their family, his girlfriend who he's loved since they were kids broke up with him out of nowhere last fall, and most recently his mom died. Despite her hopes of seeing his high school graduation, she fell short. Pain doesn't even begin to describe it, but a sliver of hope comes in the form of a letter from Japan. When Danny gets a letter from the woman who took care of his family's apartment in Tokyo, he decides to travel to the place he and his mom loved most of all to connect with her memory and make peace with how she lived and when she died.
This book took me a while to get into, but once I opened myself to Danny's reality, I was captured by this story. First, the things I liked. By far my favorite character was Kana, an almost-but-not-quite-Harajuku girl who wrote Danny the letter and becomes his friend as he stays in Japan. She is fun, a beautiful blend of old traditional and new boldness, and her insightful nature into both Danny and his mom added so much. I wish she were real so I could hang out with her. Also, the setting of Tokyo was incredibly done. I don't know much about Asia but that didn't matter. Whitney paints with her words, making me able to perfectly visualize this place, how it looks and how it feels. While I feel like I'm constantly seeing Europe as a setting for YA, Tokyo was a breath of fresh air. Thirdly, this story is told entirely from Danny's point of view which is something I don't feel like we get a whole lot of in contemporary YA. Whitney does a strong job showcasing that yes, teenage boys can have feelings and even love and need and miss their moms. That relationship was so beautifully complicated and lovely and sad and wonderful, making a completely solid core for this story.
However, like I said this story took me a while to get into, mostly because it felt cruel and almost unrealistic that so many horrible things could happen in Danny's life. This fact is something that is actually addressed in the story, but there were still more than a few times when I found myself thinking "really? There's more? Hasn't he had enough?" Also, there were two characters/plot lines that I didn't feel particularly added a lot. One was the character Trina - to me, she could be cut completely. The other was actually Danny's relationship with is sister Laini. I thought this situation was interesting, but there wasn't quite enough there for my taste. I would have liked to see more, to have Laini be a more continued presence rather than only showing up for her part to be resolved or simply removed all together.
All in all, I was completely moved by this story. The writing style is exquisite and the overall tone and feel of it reminded me very much of that of Laurie Halse Anderson or Gayle Forman. This is a book that explores tough feelings, so if you're not afraid of going down that road, then this is absolutely the book for you.
And now, time for a giveaway! One lucky winner (US only - sorry!) will win this ARC. Check out the Rafflecopter form and good luck!
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Comments welcome, and, as always, happy reading!
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