When You Were Here

First Lines: When someone you love has died, there is a certain grace period during which you can get away with murder.  Not literal murder, but pretty much anything else.

And with this book, my trend of reading dark contemporary novels continues.  (But fear not, friends; my next review is supernatural!)  For whatever reason, I’m really drawn to books about death and grieving.  I don’t know why, exactly, but I think it has something to do with messages of hope in them, about living.  So I figured this book would have that in spades.

Two months before Danny’s graduation, his mother loses her five-year battle with cancer.  She’d been trying to hang on long enough to see him give his valedictorian speech.  Completely alone now besides his dog and his heartbreaking ex-girlfriend who won’t leave him alone, Danny is left to put the pieces of his life back together.  When Danny gets a letter from his mother’s building manager in Tokyo where she’d been going for treatments, he discovers a side of his mother he never knew.  With nothing better to do, he goes to Tokyo to find more of her.  She was so happy in those last few months, and Danny can’t understand it.  What was in Tokyo?  With the help of a new friend, Danny begins to unravel how sometimes learning to die means learning to live.

I will say that if you’re looking for an emotional read, this is it.  I think I cried like, twice reading this.

But the beginning of this was so dark.  Danny is incredibly angry and apathetic toward others.  He’s numb.  He’s directionless.  And while I completely understand that that’s probably how I would be if I were in his position, it made it incredibly hard for me to get into the book.  I even thought about putting it down because I struggling so much to get inside Danny’s head.

I stuck with it because I figured he would grow as a character and that darkness would disappear.  And I was right.  The longer the story went on (especially once he made it to Tokyo), the more I started to like him.

I liked the setting of Tokyo.  I admittedly know very little about Japanese culture, but I always hope these books will teach me more.  Their culture is so drastically different from how it is in the US, and it was fun to watch Danny and his Japanese friend, Kana, navigate the city.

As for the plot, there are quite a few surprise twists.  One was just so good that the only way I can sum up my reaction is with this gif:

http://reactiongifs.com/?p=19314  (Sorry, gifs are still strange beasts to me and I don’t have enough time now to figure out how to actually make this look pretty.)

And, admittedly, there were a few twists that were also way obvious.  (But I think that was intentional.)  Still, be prepared for a few epic surprises and some not-so surprising moments.

While it was hard to initially get into, I came to like this book and enjoy it.

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