I Was Here – Gayle Forman

death, families, mental illness, suicide

Cody receives an email from her friend Meg that she has killed herself.  Planning an email on a time delay, indicating which motel she was in, and telling her parents how to deal with her body…. it seems Meg thought of everything, only not how her suicide would affect her best friend, family, and the small town she had just left behind.

Cody, much like everyone, is confused more than anything that Meg killed herself.  Even boxing up most of her own belongings before committing suicide, it seems Meg was factual, logical, and of sound mind – lists, boxes, emails.  How can one such intelligent and functioning girl want to die?  In her email Meg wrote it had been coming for a long time and Cody begins to question her entire background with her best friend.

  • A side note to myself on the main emotions and how loss is dealt with in this book (for my next piece on The Hub): Confusion, bitterness of being left behind, and that she failed her friend by not keeping in touch.  The overall tone is being left behind and the reasons Meg killed herself.  Confusion mostly until Cody feels a purpose in figuring out why Meg killed herself, and that is where the suicide gets darker in a realistic, online-suicide-group sort of way.  Everyone processes grief differently – baking, talking (or not talking), reliving memories, or anger….. “the tentacles of her suicide” affecting everyone.  Later Cody must acknowledge forgiveness and that she may need to forgive herself, but in her grief she’d rather be angry because she’d rather focus on anger than feel exposed and the resulting sadness.  She does not want to face the depth of her loss.  Meg’s Dad mentions how if there was someone to blame then grieving her would be simpler and cleaner.  Once Cody let’s her true feelings out, the guilt is the strongest, but in the end she is just left left sad about what was and what could have been.  Anger and sadness can be experienced at the same time during grief and this book  covers it well – as well as the added bonus of trying to teach forgiveness for ourselves (and hits upon depression and mental illness).

Once Cody, with the help of one of Meg’s roommates who hacks into an encrypted file on her computer, finds a trail to an anonymous internet suicide group she has a purpose to find out why Meg killed herself.  With the help of Meg’s odd mix of roommates (the stoner minister’s son is a good one), and the ex that broke Meg’s heart, Cody finds an odd Scooby Gang to help her investigate Meg’s death.  The book gets dark, but isn’t that a needed warning for teens and what they can find on the internet and to be wary of anonymous strangers?  Many who censor what their children read won’t like this once the suicide group gets into the plot,  but I believe that knowledge is useful and a powerful form of independence and intelligence – I think it’s a fine book, definitely dark, but stuff like this is out there so why not address it?  There is a really shady person on the chat board who discusses suicide as “freedom” and even encourages Meg to find her freedom and that perhaps it will set others free from her.  What can be troubling is the one-sided view of the forum showing suicide as seen as brave in some cultures and encouraging the act.  I certainly wouldn’t want that taught to some young readers, but most teens know there are bad groups on the internet.

While the main plot is Cody trying to find the reason for Meg’s suicide, in searching for that answer she feels is necessary to move on in her own life, we are shown different types of families – from the best to the worst-  and it isn’t until the end that the reader grasps that not all of life’s events have predictable causes, not all people are as they seem from social stereotypes, and families range from loving adoptive parents to those that abandon their children, or worse – show indifference to their existence.  But the most important thing that comes out of this book is forgiveness, not for a criminal or a victim, but for those left behind and how we forgive ourselves, and to remember those who die were here.  For a moment. I Was Here proves there are so many moments and emotions during the healing process and that it is different for everyone.

 

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