You Were Here

After a two year sabbatical, what piece of pop culture is deserving of being the first thing we talk about? There are so many choices, but in the end I went with a YA novel I read recently called You Were Here, by Cori McCarthy, published by Sourcebooks Fire, which will be available next month, March, 2016. (I read it as an ARC, available to me for free from Net Galley) This is a story of several seniors, who are getting ready for college, or whatever comes after high school, who have deep psychic wounds following the accidental death of a central figure. A daredevil all his life, who hopes for a career in video, Jake does a trick that goes terribly wrong, leaving everyone who loved him, or was at the scene, stuck in their grief.

Jaycee, Jake's little sister, who is not so little these days, is still trying to connect with him, but not trying in any healthy ways. She is reckless and foolish, as demonstrated at the beginning of the book when she duplicates the stunt that killed her brother. From there she heads to the abandoned former insane asylum, (doesn't that sound so much more dramatic and scary than “mental health facility”?), a place her brother frequented, and a spot where she has gone repeatedly since his demise. She is joined by several friends, some current and some she has been estranged from. After a small adventure she decides to follow her dead brother's footsteps, and go urban exploring (what we called hacking or real world hacking in my day) in the spots he mentions in a document he left behind.

The story is told from the perspective of each member of the group, in turn. But the entries are not all in text. One member's thoughts are communicated via graffiti, while another's are in graphic novel form. This could have been annoying and gimmicky, but I thought it worked quite well. (Although I would have been just as happy reading the entire thing as a comic.)

I enjoyed this novel, but I had some trouble with it. Two things stand out. One, despite being far from my own adolescence, I usually relate to the protagonists of YA novels. Unfortunately in this one I felt a stronger connection with Jaycee's father than I did with her. I felt bad for both of them, but I really felt for him. What must it be like to lose a son and then constantly worry about the reckless behavior of your one surviving child? It sounds horrific.

Two; there were some elements of the story that just didn’t seem real to me. I don't mean the part about climbing to the top of a very tall rickety structure; that is one hundred percent something we do, even when we aren't out of our minds with grief. No, it was some of the physics that I didn't believe. I don't think the timing worked in some of the more dangerous scenes, with people doing things that would take place in seconds or fractions of seconds. And there is a peculiar thing that is in the asylum that just doesn't sound possible to me. On the other hand, I do know that plenty of things that seem impossible, or implausible, happen all around us all the time, so it didn't ruin the book for me, but it did pull me out the story again and again.

That being said, the way each character reacted to Jake's death rang very true. One character can no longer speak, or rarely speaks, another (who has some serious problems at home) regresses and spends his days drinking and playing video games, while another becomes a control freak (or even more of a control freak?) while simultaneously planning a complete change of personality, once they get out of their hometown and into college, where they believe their real life will begin.

If you're looking for an adventure story with some deeply flawed characters, with secrets that have the potential to cause more trauma, you should give this one a try. But be forewarned if you think this is going to be a science fiction or fantasy novel as I usually write about; this one is a contemporary YA with the only ghosts being the ghosts of memory.

Bonus Treat:
This week's bonus treat is perfect for anyone who wants to give their Valentine something handmade. The Toymaker, who we have adored for many a year, has a splendid assortment of papercraft downloadable for free. I strongly recommend the elephant delivery. Who can resist an elephant? Who would want to? Certainly not I. Direct link to the elephant delivery pdf: