Release Date: June 4, 2013
Publisher: Little, Brown
Filled with humor, raw emotion, a strong voice, and a brilliant dog named Sandy Koufax, When You Were Here explores the two most powerful forces known to man-death and love. Daisy Whitney brings her characters to life with a deft touch and resonating authenticity.
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 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. (courtesy of Goodreads.)
I loved Daisy Whitney's first novel The Mockingbirds so much that she's become an auto-read. When You Were Here is very different from The Mockingbirds and its sequel The Rivals but just as good if not better.
When You Were Here is not an easy read. It's not that it's overly complex, but rather that it's not the happiest book. When You Were Here is principally about grief. Danny's mother has just died. The synopsis gives this idea that there's a big mystery over what his mother did in Japan during her last days. And there is a mystery of sorts, but that's not what will stay with me of this book.
Daisy Whitney makes grief feel palpable. She does a wonderful job of getting the reader into Danny's head and making our hearts explode in pain as we turn the pages. Danny handles his grief just how I'd expect an 18 year old boy to do. He's angry. He's desperately sad, but doesn't know how to express it so he retreats into himself. A lot of this is hard to read. And Danny doesn't always come off that well, as many people dealing with a tragic even don't. But you get the sense that Danny is a really good guy. Nice. Dependable. Smart. Friendly. The type that you'd be proud to bring home to your parents. It's just that the grief has overtaken him for awhile.
Japan is good for Danny. The change of scenery and people starts to turn him back into himself, albeit a post-mom version. A lot of this lightness is due to his new friend Kana. She's a quirky, smiley teenage girl. A lot of people have described her as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl and I suppose that descriptor fits (I don't associate MPDGs with the negative connotations that many do). Even better, she's just a friend. Danny is so besotted with his ex-girlfriend that a new romance with Kana would feel like a love triangle. It's nice to have a boy/girl friendship that isn't complicated.
Japan is also good for the reader. You get such a good feel for Tokyo. The culture. The scenery. The food. It makes me want to go back there. Especially since I was only in Tokyo for a day and didn't get the feel of it like I did with other parts of Japan. If you have any interest in Japanese culture, you will love this book.
As the book unfolds, you get a better idea of Danny's mother and Holland, the girl who broke his heart. In other words, there is a plot. And I liked it. But I'm speaking in such vague platitudes, because the story is the least important part of the book. It's Danny, his grief, and his gradual healing that will last.
When You Were Here is a fabulous book. It is a sad, difficult read that will send you to a dark place. But by the end it will lift you up to a place where you'll feel - not joy necessarily - but contentment and understanding.
Rating: 4 / 5
Here's How to Buy the Book!