Having hope to go on in “I Was Here”

Gayle Forman broke out as one of the masters of young adult fiction literature with 2009’s If I Stay, a heartbreaking, but inspiring story that had a whole lot to say about the strength of the human spirit. That same theme echoes throughout her novel I Was Here, which, like most of her work, takes tragedy, guilt, friendship, inspiration, heartache, and bravery and mixes them all up in a blender of feelings that will have you hooked from the first chapter.

I Was Here is Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss.

This characteristically powerful novel follows eighteen-year-old Cody Reynolds in the months following her best friend’s shocking suicide.

As Cody numbly searches for answers as to why Meg took her own life, she begins a journey of self-discovery which takes her to a terrifying precipice, and forces her to question not only her relationship with the Meg she thought she knew, but her own understanding of life, love, death and forgiveness.

A phenomenally moving story, I Was Here explores the sadly all-too-familiar issue of suicide and self-harm, addressing it in an authentic way with sensitivity and honesty.

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I Was Here is a pitch-perfect blend of mystery, tragedy, and romance. Forman has given us an unflinchingly honest portrait of the bravery it takes to live after devastating loss. Whilst at the same time taking the sensitive issue of suicide and showing it from the viewpoint of the friends, family and loved ones involved.

Although this book features a girl who commits suicide, Forman is adamant that this novel is not a book about suicide. She has said:

“It’s strange to say that this is not a book about suicide because we’re going to talk about suicide a lot. But I don’t think it is. Ultimately this book is about Cody and her resilience and her finding the strength for forgiveness and understanding.”
— Gayle Forman on I Was Here

For me, this book is not a book about giving up or death or anything of that sort. Instead, this is a novel that is largely about hope. For me, this book says: having hope (and hope itself) is a good enough reason to go on.

I read this story a few years ago, but it has stuck with me since. Not only because of the characters and the story, but also largely because of a particular quote that I found I could never quite forget.

“But you know why my pop says that suicide is a sin?” He points his thumb toward the house, where Jerry is now helping Sylvia with the rest of the dishes.
“Because it’s murder. Because only God can choose when it’s your time to go. Because stealing a life is stealing from God.” I parrot all the awful things people said about Meg. Richard shakes his head.
“No. Because it kills hope. That’s the sin. Anything that kills hope is a sin.”
— Gayle Forman, I Was Here

I’ve always known that hope can be enough to keep a person going. It’s enough to keep Cody going. Hope like that, like the kind that is shown throughout this whole story, doesn’t make you a weak person. It makes you stronger, because it brings with it a sense of reason. Not a reason for how or why someone was taken from you, but a reason to go on, a reason for you to live. Because it’s a maybe. A “maybe someday things won’t always be this bad” And that “maybe” immediately makes the crapiness better.

That, for me, is what I Was Here is all about. It’s about having enough hope to make the best of any situation.

As Cody’s mother told her:

“You had a pile of rocks, and you cleaned them up pretty and made a necklace. Meg got jewels, and she hung herself with them.”
— Gayle Forman, I Was Here

The difference between these, is that Cody had enough hope to make the best of her situation.

 

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