Title: You Were Here by Cori McCarthy
Illustrated by Sonia Liao
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Length: 400 pages
Book Rating: B+
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
Cori McCarthy delivers an emotionally taut page-turner from multiple points of view – combined with stunning illustrations.
Jaycee is about to accomplish what her older brother Jake couldn’t: live past graduation.
Jaycee is dealing with her brother’s death the only way she can – by re-creating Jake’s daredevil stunts. The ones that got him killed. She’s not crazy, okay? She just doesn’t have a whole lot of respect for staying alive.
Jaycee doesn’t expect to have help on her insane quest to remember Jake. But she’s joined by a group of unlikely friends – all with their own reasons for completing the dares and their own brand of dysfunction: the uptight, ex-best friend, the heartbroken poet, the slacker with Peter Pan syndrome, and… Mik. He doesn’t talk, but somehow still challenges Jayce to do the unthinkable-reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.
Cori McCarthy’s gripping narrative defies expectation, moving seamlessly from prose to graphic novel panels and word art poetry, perfect for fans of E. Lockhart, Jennier Niven, and Jandy Nelson. From the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum to the skeletal remains of the world’s largest amusement park, You Were Here takes you on an unforgettable journey of friendship, heartbreak and inevitable change.
Despite its somewhat somber subject matter, Cori McCarthy’s young adult novel, You Were Here, is a surprisingly uplifting journey of healing.
Five years after her brother Jake’s shattering loss, Jaycee Strangelove is still trying to come to terms with both his death and her lingering grief. In an effort to keep his memory alive, she has been following in his adrenaline-filled footsteps by recreating his thrilling stunts and accepting any dare that comes her way. On the anniversary of his death, Jaycee reunites with a couple of friends from her past and they, along with two other teenagers, decide to spend the summer visiting the same decaying urban landmarks that Jake visited before he died.
Jaycee idolized Jake and not only is she still traumatized by witnessing his death, she has been unable to process her grief or make sense of how to move on without him. She is completely closed off emotionally and clinging tightly to her memories while at the same time she is resentful of her parents’ very different ways of coping with the loss of their son. She also remains deeply angered by her best friend Natalie Cheng’s abandonment immediately following his death. Jaycee values honesty to the point of tactlessness nor does she refrain from making sometimes hurtful observations. However, in spite of her harsh edges, Jaycee is an extremely likable and sympathetic young woman who is trying to move forward the best way she knows how.
On the anniversary of Jake’s death, Jaycee is joined by his childhood friend Ryan “Mik” Mikivikious as she revisits his favorite haunt, an abandoned mental hospital. She tagged along on many of their exploits when she was younger and no one understands her loss more than Mik. Although Mik has little to say to her (or anyone for that matter), she is comforted by his company as she searches for proof of Jake’s presence in the old hospital. Jaycee also has a huge crush on Mik but she does not know how to show her feelings to the ever silent young man.
The last thing Jaycee expects is to renew her friendship with Natalie. Despite Jaycee’s simmering anger, hurt feelings and ever present animoisty, Natalie wants nothing more than to bury the hatchet in hopes that she can move on to the next phase in her life. Their initial exchanges are full of heartbreak but underlying all of the interactions is their shared past that continues to draw them to one another. Natalie’s organized, type A personality is the complete opposite of Jaycee’s impulsivity but these differences are a large part of the reason why their friendship worked so well for so many years.
Natalie’s boyfriend Zach Ferris and their friend, Bishop, also join Jaycee, Natalie and Mik as they follow in Jake’s urban explorer (urbex) footsteps. Zach has unexpected ties to Jake since his older brother Tyler was one of Jake’s best friends. Zach is a reluctant adventurer since he would much rather play video games while drinking his way to oblivion in his father’s basement, but wherever Natalie goes, he is sure to follow. Their long term romance is on its last legs since Natalie is going to college out of state in the fall while he plans on going to the local college but he is determined to cling to her as long as possible.
Although Bishop did not know Jake since he moved to town after his death, he is an eager participant in the urbex adventures. Nursing a broken heart since his rather brutal breakup months earlier, he is pleasantly surprised by the meaning he finds at each of their stops. He has been distancing himself from Zach in anticipation of his upcoming departure to college, but when Bishop learns distressing news about Natalie, he comes to Zach’s defense.
You Were Here is narrated from multiple points of view but each voice is distinctive due to the somewhat unique form of narration. Jaycee’s chapters are written in first person and her anger, hurt, confusion and pain are revealed in heartwrenching detail. Zach and Natalie’s chapters are written in third person and their chapters prove very illuminating as readers discover that Natalie is nowhere near as together as she appears and that Zach is much more perceptive than he lets on. Bishop’s contributions to the storyline are in the form of sketches and graffiti at each of their stops. Mik’s perspective is revealed through a series of graphic novels which is completely in character with his pervasive silence. Although unorthodox, the narrative is seamlessly woven together and provides a well-rounded view of each of the characters.
You Were Here is a captivating young adult novel that is the perfect blend of heartache and healing. The characters are beautifully developed and likable with relatable flaws and true to life problems. Cori McCarthy deftly broaches difficult topics with sensitivity and her innovative approach to storytelling brings this emotional novel vibrantly to life.