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Title: WHEN YOU WERE HERE
Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Number of Pages: 257
Source of Book: ARC from publisher at NCTE
When You Were Here, Lost in Translation meets Where She Went, is about an American teenager who travels from California to Tokyo to uncover the secrets surrounding the death of his mother, all while trying to both hold onto and let go of the girl he’s been in love with his whole life.First Thoughts: WHEN YOU WERE HERE is an achingly, heartbreakingly, healingly incredible novel. It ripped me apart and stitched me back together one small piece/scene/conversation at a time.
Danny's mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.
Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn't know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.
When he gets a letter from his mom's property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother's memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.
I adore Daisy Whitney, and I loved her debut, THE MOCKINGBIRDS, and it's follow-up, THE RIVALS, so I was anxiously awaiting her next book. I knew this one would have a different tone than her others, and I was intrigued by her writing in a teen male's voice. I'm so glad to be able to say that I loved this book. In fact, I'm not sure that's even a strong enough emotion for what I feel about this story.
I thought I knew where this book was headed. I thought I knew what Danny's trajectory would be. He's just shredded when we meet him in the beginning. He's grieving. His father's been gone a long time. His mother is just recently gone. He's lost the girl he loves. High school is over. He's aimless and doesn't know which direction to turn. So he heads to Tokyo, his home away from his California home with his family. He needs to discover why his mom didn't make it to his graduation, why the cancer took her too early. He needs to find a way to feel again, something, anything. He needs to find a way to discover if he can ever not be hurting. He finds Kana, a new friend, and rekindles his love of a city he belongs in. Then, nineteen chapters in, a jaw-droppingly unexpected event is revealed that changed my entire perception of the direction this book was headed. Danny's journey becomes about much more, and it's a true discovery of self and life and love and healing and being at peace with death. And I was enamored with every word of it.
There's something about Daisy Whitney's writing style that I feel so comfortable immersing myself in. She's a fantastic contemporary voice with deep emotion and flawed characters and hope. She deftly created a balance between what is happening in the moment, and flashing back to the events in the past that led to Danny and Holland being at this point. My emotions were in turmoil throughout reading Danny's story. I was so caught up in his emotions, I mostly just wanted to give him a big hug throughout, and by the end, I just wanted to hug the book to me and not let it go. WHEN YOU WERE HERE is one of those books that is going to stay with me. I was feeling so many emotions by the end (and, yes, needed kleenex handy); it touched on nerves deep within my soul, and the journey I took with Danny made a lasting impact on me.
Final Thought: Some books are hard to let go of and forget - this one will be with me for a long time because of its sincerity and how it hits just the right notes.
Note for teachers/librarians/parents: Please read this book; however, there are mature scenes so it's probably better for a high school audience. If you work with 8th graders, read it first to determine appropriateness before handing to any students.