I Was Here by Gayle Forman
As the story begins, the titular ‘I’ is dead. That’s actually not a spoiler – “The day after Meg died …” marks the first sentence, and follows with a suicide note: “I regret to inform you that I have had to take my own life…” Meg Diaz, 18, sends a final missive to her nearest and dearest, timed to arrive after the deed is done. The rest of the book is the aftereffects of Meg’s tragic decision on those she leaves behind. [Should you choose to go aural, Jorjeana Marie is the consummate teenage fit.]
Mega-bestselling YA author Gayle Forman’s ending “Author’s Note” reveals that the Suzy Gonzalez, to whom the book is dedicated, was the “spark of inspiration” for Meg. Suzy was real. Teenage suicide, too, remains all too real. When Forman was a journalist, she ‘met’ Suzy through her surviving friends and family. Forman held on to Suzy for more than a decade before she created Meg; from Meg, Forman added a best friend, Cody, who becomes the central narrator here, as she learns to live her own life after losing the most important relationship of her young 18 years.
Since their very first meeting in kindergarten, Meg and Cody have been inseparable. Cody’s sense of family comes from Meg, especially Meg’s parents who have been a constant source of meals, stability, support, and unconditional love. Cody has never met her birthfather; her mother Trish doesn’t seem to consider parenting much of a priority.
After high school, Meg left their remote Washington town for a private elite college, full scholarship in hand. Cody didn’t have the funding to follow, but the plan was always a new life together in Seattle, sooner than later. Bright, original, charismatic Meg had the world before her … until she drank poison in a hotel room alone, leaving a big tip for the maid and her virtual goodbyes.
Cody is paralyzed with guilt over not being the best friend she thought she should have been. When she goes to clear out Meg’s room at college, she inadvertently discovers clues to Meg’s senseless death she can’t let go … even if finding the truth means putting her own life on the line.
Forman – most recently of If I Stay and Where She Went-fame – has built quite a substantial reputation with stories about girls caught between life and death. Her style seems consciously tailored for the big screen – If I Stay went successfully celluloid in August 2014 – with pitch-perfect conversations, relatable quotidian details, just-right pacing, to play big at a mall megaplex near you.
Most disappointingly, she’s already written in the expected stereotypes to please Hollywood’s gatekeepers. [No surprise: as of last month, the film adaptation is already in development!] That means the one computer-savvy code breaker is an Asian geek who squirrels away kimchi in his room. He only exists because techno-illiterate Cody needs him; his only sign of life is the cheap thrill Cody’s little assignment provides. Really??!!
Casting agents are surely getting ready: when Cody’s not in need of her Asian computer, there’s beautiful bad boy Ben whose chimerical blue eyes get waaay too much attention. Why the object of apparently every girl’s desire has to be so predictable is an eye-rolling disservice. Why couldn’t Ben have been a hunky Arab, African, Asian – add some diversity! – American? Why couldn’t the techno geek be the cerulean-eyed Adonis?
And the final complaint … granted that Meg Diaz was inspired by a real life tragedy, did the dead girl here really have to be Latina? This is fiction, after all …
But who needs diversity or inclusive representation when the book has been flying off shelves since it pubbed earlier this year? Forman’s name on the cover is pretty much a bestseller guarantee these days. Given her publishing power, millions of readers will once again be not-so-subtly told that only white people can be heroes, that characters of color must be stereotypes, or end up damaged or dead. Am I overreacting? I hardly think so … not over and over and again and again … and certainly not when I Was Here is heading larger-than-life to a screen near you!
Readers: Young Adult