I Was Here by Gayle Forman Review: Overcoming Grief

January 12, 2015 by Jeann @ Happy Indulgence | 3 stars, ARC Reviews, Books, Reviews

I Was Here by Gayle Forman Review: Overcoming GriefI Was Here by Gayle Forman
Published by Simon and Schuster Australia on January 27, 2015
Source: Publisher
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
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Cody and Meg were inseparable.
Two peas in a pod.
Until . . . they weren’t anymore.

When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.

I Was Here is Gayle 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.

Everyone copes with grief differently, and I Was Here did wonderfully in presenting a different side to the story, of a girl who just couldn’t sit down and cope. She had to be proactive and to find some purpose in her friend’s suicide, in an attempt to internally justify her actions and to right wrongs. Instead of just being about the emotions, it had an unexpected darker and sinister tone to it.

I Was Here was a quick read that I read in one sitting. I was swept up into Cody’s story as she investigates where Meg was in the months before her suicide, from the people she talked to, where she went online, and the guys that she dated. There’s an interesting investigative element to it, as Cody questions Meg’s roommates and combs through her email for information.

I liked how Cody dealt with her emotional loss by being proactive and trying to find answers, instead of sitting down and trying to overcome it herself. Being dubbed as ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’, Cody was brave and proactive as she searched for answers to her friend’s decision. But when she stumbles upon a creepy suicide support group which Meg participated in, that’s when things turned weird. Without turning into spoiler territory, Cody gets a bit too obsessive when it comes to Meg’s actions, and she starts making questionable and unsafe decisions which didn’t sit right with me. 

I remember how I read those messages over and over, even though it physically hurt to do so. I missed her so much, and wished I could’ve been there, could’ve gone through with our plans. But I never told her that. There’s a lot that I didn’t tell her. And even more that she didn’t tell me. 

While she gets involved with Ben, the last guy Meg was seeing, and she begins participating in the forum, I witnessed Cody actually turning into Meg. It was weird how she found some comfort in it and even when she realised the extent of her decisions, she just kept on chasing the rabbit down the hole. There’s being proactive, and then there’s being obsessive and fixated for your own selfish reasons, which I felt what Cody had become. She just couldn’t get over the fact that Meg had this secret life she didn’t tell her about, and even though they were best friends, Meg’s entitled to her own life. For the most part, I couldn’t relate to her way of thinking and some of her decisions, even though I found it compelling and fascinating.

The romance was weird as well, following exact the same pattern of Megs by beginning with friendship and then evolving into something more. I felt like she was selfish and unfair with Ben, as one of the only people who cared about Meg as much as she did. I didn’t really like how she treated him at all, and felt that the romance was actually quite forced.

I did like how the main characters were college age though, with clubbing, drinking and sex being explored. We need more books in this gap and I Was Here satiated that need.


As the second book I’ve read of Gayle Forman’s, I don’t think her writing is for me. Her common themes are redemption and regret, and in order to do so there are some pretty weird things that her characters seem to do, like Cody being nosy and selfish. While I Was Here had beautiful writing with some compelling themes about suicide and grief, I just couldn’t connect to the main character or the romance.

Rating: 3 out of 5

I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

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Jeann is an Aussie YA blogger and mum who loves to read and recommend books! You can usually find me fangirling about books on my various social media channels including Twitter @happyindulgence, Instagram and Youtube.

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82 responses to “I Was Here by Gayle Forman Review: Overcoming Grief

  1. It's a shame that you didn't like this one too much, Jeann. I must say … some of the themes sound a little weird. Although I guess it could just be showcasing what suicide can do to the people left behind, and Cody's experience is an extreme reaction.

    I really like books with college age students, as well. There really is a bit of a gap in that area at the moment (as most NA seems to be 100% romance right now).

    I've only read IF I STAY, and I wasn't a huge fan but this title does sound pretty interesting so I might end up giving it a go one day. Maybe ;P
    My recent post Books for Mail + Simply Sunday (#11)

    • Chiara if you want to read more NA books that aren\’t romance – REBECCA JAMES. DO IT! Yeah, I wasn\’t the biggest If I Stay fan either.

  2. It's always disappointing when you can't connect to the romance! That tends to affect my enjoyment of a contemporary quite a bit. I'm a little conflicted over whether I want to read this or not. It looks like a book I would usually really like reading, but the sound of Cody's obsessive behavior makes me a bit nervous. I may read it someday, but probably not anytime soon.

    Great review, Jeann! 🙂
    My recent post The Conspiracy of Us Blog Tour ~ Interview with Maggie Hall!

    • Thanks Kaitlin, the romance was actually kind of weird. If you like the sound of it, give it a go! Just be warned of Cody lol.

  3. I'm still not really sure whether or not I'll pick this one up. I loved If I Stay and Where She Went but I've been hearing mixed things about this one :/ Maybe I'll see if I can get it from the library instead of buying. Great review!
    My recent post INKED | Angie from Pinkindle

  4. Bec

    It's interesting reading other people's reviews of I Was Here after having just scheduled mine. I'm realising so many things I didn't notice until now. Like Cody turning into Meg. I got really worried for a while there.

    And the romance was another thing. Cody did treat Ben like shit. But overall the way the romance developed (the formula of bickering to friends to relationship) is the type of romance I really enjoy. But I got SO FRUSTRATED every time Cody would brush Ben off or say something mean or not return calls for no reason.

    Overall I was really disappointed, which seems to be a general thing when it comes to I Was Here. I was expecting more from such an overhyped author.
    My recent post Review: Valiant by Holly Black

    • Ah, I'm keen on reading your review Bec, especially since everyone is having either love or hate thoughts about it. It was definitely disappointing hey?

  5. I've been a huge fan of Foreman for a long time, but I don't know if I'd enjoy reading about Cody's descent into creepiness… But I'd still give this book a chance' Too bad Gayle isn't the author for you, I know what that's like. Either way, lovely review, Jeann!
    My recent post {Movie Review} Into the Woods

  6. danielleisbusyreading

    I had very similar feelings about this book! It definitely explore grief in a unique way, but I wasn't at all comfortable with Cody's actions in the latter half of the book. And yes, the romance was SO underwhelming. I felt like it didn't have to be there at all, it was so underdeveloped. :/
    Lovely review, and thanks for sharing your honest thoughts!

    Danielle @ Love at First Page

  7. Braine-Talk Supe

    Yours is the second review I read today that wasn't wowed by this one. The other reviewer echoed your thoughts on Cody and the romance. I haven't tried her work and I'm not compelled to Anytime soon.

  8. rlsharpe

    I'm so far behind on my Gayle Forman books, but I read and loved 'If I Stay' and 'Where She Went.' I look forward to reading this. I didn't realise the characters were collage age, that will be interesting to read. I haven't read a lot of books with collage aged characters, they don't interest me as much as YA but it's nice for a change every now and again.
    Great review. Thanks for sharing.
    My recent post The Amberly Chronicles Episode 7: The Lake Part Two.

    • Thank you Rochelle, it would give you an interesting and different point of view I think, if you don\’t usually read NA.

  9. Faye M.

    I can totally see why this one didn't connect with you as much, Jeann. It's important for us to be emotionally-involved with the heroine. Even if we understand why she does what she does, there are just time that we're uncomfortable with it, you know what I mean? I feel like her obsession would rub me off the wrong way as well. I haven't read any Gayle Foreman though (haha, I feel like I'm the only one in the world), so I can't really comment on her writing. I hope I do see for myself soon!
    My recent post Potato Prints #5: Harry Potter, Throne of Glass

    • I know, what she did just really rubbed me the wrong way and put me off for the rest of the book. She was so obsessed, it got scary and obviously needed help lol!

  10. I haven't read any books by the author and while I've been wanting too, her books seem so melancholic and I find it hard to read sad books. I need some sort of lightness in a book even if it deals with a serious topic.

    This book seems a little scary though, what with Cody's obsession! Her practically reliving Meg's life is kind of scary! It's no wonder it affected your enjoyment of the novel.

    I am glad it explored some important concepts in terms of College life, though!

    Lovely review, hon! 🙂

  11. Jeann – I was one of the few people who wasn't able to get into If I Stay, so I'm not sure if this would be for me in the first place. I love the sound of how this tackles so many difficult issues so wonderfully, but the fact that you struggled to connect to the main character or the romance worries me a bit. Nonetheless, thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! <3

  12. I loved Gayle's If I Stay and Where She Went books so I think I might click better with her writing. I do have a weird vibe about Cody already by the way you describe her, though. I don't usually do well with characters who get obsessive and make it affect their decisions. The worst are those who go find the serial killers themselves in thriller books instead of going to the cops omg!! I like that they're a bit older, too, I seem to relate to them much easier than younger YA. Glad you liked it overall, though!
    My recent post Review: Please Remain Calm by Courtney Summers

  13. *hi fives* I AGREE. Although I think I rated it lower… I just really didn't like Cody. I thought she was SO CRUEL to Ben, and I kept waiting for Ben to actually confess to being a jerk, or be caught being awful. But he never was. The whole time he seemed like a nice guy?!
    And the whole second half just…no. I don't think it's ever okay/safe to stalk someone even if they're evil. (I'm not saying The Guy I Won't Name Because Spoilers didn't deserve to be in prison, but still…stalking is still a crime and CODY was the stalker here. Meg wasn't being stalked. She was just talking to extremely bad people, right? Erh.)
    Yeah, so a no to this one from me, despite how much I adored If I Stay and Where She Went.
    My recent post Why Do I Love Retellings?

    • Oh yes, Ben did actually seem like a nice guy that wanted out! It was Cody who was the creepy one, and Meg as well. That stalking was really terrible, I was just like WHAT ARE YOU DOING YOU DUMB GIRL.

  14. I totally agree, I read this too and also decided that Gayle Forman's writing just really isn't for me. I'm sure that fans of her other books will enjoy this, but I couldn't relate to the characters and I couldn't relate to Cody's pain of Meg's suicide because I didn't know Meg's character.
    My recent post Goals for 2015 || Reading, Writing and Blogging

  15. Oh I'm sorry that it wasn't more than you thought… The story in a whike sounds interesting but I confess that I'm not sure I will try it soon, but who knows, maybe one day. thanks for the review.

  16. I'm sorry this was not the book for you Jeann. I think I'm getting hold of a copy soon, hopefully anyway, and then I'll be able to check it out for myself. A great review though! 🙂

  17. LilysBookBlog

    I really loved Where She Went but that one seems to be the only read Gayle Forman book I loved. I've concluded that her books usually just aren't for me. I'm definitely not the main type of audience for them. I've heard quite a lot of people say they're on the fence about this one. Appearently the MC was difficult to connect too and like you mentioned with the romance, it wasn't all that great *sigh*
    Thanks for the review Jeann! Hopefully you enjoy your next read more!

  18. I'm a little wary of this book now that I've read your review. I'm a fan of Ms. Forman, but I wasn't a fan of the books following If I Stay/Where She Went. I didn't enjoy those. Thank you for pulling me back from my high expectations.

  19. I've been hearing very similar things about this book, Jeann and while I was looking forward to reading my first book by Gayle Foreman with this one, I think I'm going to skip. I don't think I would enjoy this one very much.
    "she starts making questionable and unsafe decisions which didn’t sit right with me. "
    That would bother me so much and her becoming her dead best friend. Yeah, no. And the romance doesn't sound like it's for me either.
    Lovely review, Jeann!
    My recent post Review : Paper or Plastic by Vivi Barnes

  20. I love the sound of this one, as in the fact that it's a true portrayal of the college years, in some sense. We definitely need more of that. Forman isn't a favourite author of mine, tbh. I don't know, she never does it for me. But I'm interested in this one, just because I want to see the portrayal of grief and that warped up romance. It's a shame you couldn't connect to the MC though. Hopefully that doesn't happen to me (but the chances are high) Beautiful review, Jeann!
    My recent post Seeking Saturday's Read #20: Birthdays, Books and the Gift That Is Chris Pine

    • I think you would definitely enjoy it Jess, especially with those investigative themes within it. I felt the same about If I Stay, there was just something about it that failed to grab me you know? Can\’t wait to read yours, Jess.

  21. I admire Gayle Forman for building a story around difficult topics such as suicide and grief, but on the flip side I don't exactly want to read about it because I have a feeling it'd be a bummer, and that's just not something I'm looking for whenever I pick-up a title. Also, your issues with her writing and characters are strong deterrents as well.
    My recent post Review: Hunted by a Jaguar by Felicity Heaton

    • She does touch on some really difficult subjects really beautifully doesn\’t she? But there\’s just something about it that just makes me uncomfortable (like that weird out of body experience in If I Stay)

  22. The last book I read from Foreman was Where She Went which actually made it to my favourites list. I skipped Just One Day/Year because Buona said the second book was so disappointing, it was even more upsetting since she loved the first. I kind of like the premise of this one, but I'm not sure I like where it's going…and the fact that the love interest is a guy that the MC's best friend was dating…that has a bit of ick factor for me :-/ Lovely review Jeann!
    My recent post The Seven Deadly Sins Tag

    • I\’ve only read If I Stay and it wasn\’t really my thing either. If you loved one of her books though, you\’d probably like this one too.

  23. karawrites15

    I'm glad you liked parts of this novel. The more I think about it, though, the less I like Cody. I know what you mean when you say you couldn't connect with her; I guess I felt sorry for her and everything she had to go through, but my feelings towards her weren't very strong. She was the sort of main character I didn't not like, but didn't love either. It was certainty a compelling novel though. I read it in one sitting too!

    Great review. <3
    My recent post Discussion: Required Reading – Does it Lessen Your Enjoyment of a Book?

    • Yeah, Cody was a very different character who I couldn\’t quite connect with…although I guess everyone deals with grief differently huh? Thanks Kara!

  24. Aw it's a shame that you didn't like this one, Jeann. I am quite a fan of this author's work but I'll definitely lower my expectations because I've seen some disappointed people with this one too.

    Nice review, hun! <33

    • Thanks Mel, it was interesting to see whether a different book could make me change my mind about her writing, but I guess it's just not for me!

  25. I got an ecopy of this for review and recently put it down. I was quite liking it, but I didn't feel engaged and or find myself wanting to pick it up again, so I set it down. The only slight regret I have is that I'll never have the answers, which was the thing that intrigued me most. I might just ask someone to spoil me… Great review!
    My recent post Never Forget: Reading is for Fun

  26. Hmmm interesting! I read If I Stay and only found it to be ok. I'm hoping I Was Here would be much better but from the sounds of it it's along the same lines. About to pick this one up though so fingers crossed that I do end up liking it, but Cody's slow descent into shadiness is a little bit of a turn off. :/

  27. Bec Graham

    I'm still not sure about Gayle Forman. Her writing seems way too depressing for me. If I Stay intrigues me but the movie trailer put me off because it all just looks too much.
    I may give I Was Here a go though, because I am all for bringing mental illness to the fore of the collective consciousness. Too many people still don't understand how mental illness works and affects people
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