You Were Here – Cori McCarthy – Sourcebooks Fire – Published 1 March 2016
On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of disfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.
As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.
Brilliantly told, this story is beautiful and authentic, surprising and totally enjoyable. You Were Here is told in alternating chapters from each of the five main character. Jaycee’s chapters are told in first person, while Zach and Natalie’s are in third. Bishop’s chapters are gorgeous word art poems, while Mik’s are graphic novel panels. The result is five clear and differentiated voices and a book that is an exciting mix of novel, graphic novel and poem.
Jaycee’s brother died five years ago when he snapped his neck doing a backflip off the top of a playground swing in front of Jaycee and a dozen other kids. Jaycee’s life changed that day and five years hasn’t lessened the Jake-sized hole she has in her life. Every year, on the anniversary of Jake’s death, Jaycee breaks into the Ridges, the ruins of an insane asylum, and meets up with Mik, Jake’s friend. But this year, Jaycee is joined (rather reluctantly) by her ex-best friend Natalie, Natalie’s boyfriend Zach, and their friend Bishop. What starts as one night soon becomes a whole series of adventures when Jaycee finds Jake’s map of old buildings and hidden dares.
You Were Here felt kind of like a Scooby-Doo adventure, with haunted buildings and maps and dares (but without Scooby, obviously). In some ways it was childlike in the way jumping out at your friends in a dark room is childlike, and yet the story is about so many serious and mature themes of grief and death, family breakdown, the end of school, hurt, lies and pain. It’s the perfect, potent mix. There is a beauty and authenticity to this story, which hurts and yet makes you smile.
I loved the pacing of this book. It is fairly long, but there is so much going on. It never felt slow, and I loved that each character, each voice was so unique that there was never any trouble separating them or identifying who was the voice of each chapter. There really is a lot going on in this story, which loops back and together, and it’s brilliantly executed. The story progresses over a number of weeks and yet at times it feels like it could be happening all in one night. But the time is needed as these are serious issues each of the characters are dealing with, and I love that they were neither brushed over or given a quick fix.
The awful tragedy of Jake’s death ripped a hole in Jaycee, but she wasn’t the only one affected. All five characters’ lives were changed that day, whether they were present or not. This adventure is about finally exposing the lies and the truth about what happened the day Jake fell and dealing with the fallout of the following five years.
Jaycee puts the brutal in brutally honest. When Jake died, her whole life changed. She clings to the memory of Jake, pushing everyone else away. She is acerbic, but can’t help but resent that her best friend walked away when Jaycee most needed her. As her chapters are written in first person, Jaycee feels like the protagonist of this story and readers perhaps get the greatest insight into her character. She is a fun narrator and key to pulling the group together, even as she desperately pushes them all away.
Nat is covering up some pretty big secrets and they are slowly eating away at her. Determined to cast off all burdens and attachments before starting anew at college, this summer is a chance to make some things right. Nat is the typical goody-two-shoes to whom I can’t help but relate. Yep, like Nat, I would be the one to shout out continual warnings about how dangerous that roof looks, that breathing asbestos is probably, you know, really bad for you and to pack the first aid kit.
Then there is Mik. Wonderful Mik. I wasn’t the first person to fall in love with Mik and I definitely won’t be the last. Mik was there the day Jake died. He has selective mutism, so we don’t hear a lot from Mik personally, and yet it seems so easy to see him, whether it’s through his chapters in graphic novel panels or his interactions with the others.
Zach is a low-IQ, almost-alcoholic joker. And yet he really is anything but. I think I most enjoyed uncovering Zach. He was the most surprising, the one with the most depth, but I won’t say more because the slow revealing of the real Zach is best left as a surprise. Bishop is a lesser-playing character and yet his presence is vital to the working of this book. Without him the rest of the group might just have killed each other! He brings a slice of normal(ish) to reflect the others’ crazy, and yet he too has his own story to tell, sometimes in the most surprising of ways. Together, these five teens bring a mix of humour, bravery, heartbreak, and honesty that is totally addictive and refreshing.
You Were Here is a beautiful, uplifting and surprising novel about friendship, grief and learning to look forward to the future.
The publishers provided a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Young adult fiction.
Themes: Death, grief, siblings, family, family breakdown, friendship, romance and love, adventure, dating and relationships.
Reading age guide: Ages 14 and up.
Advisory: Mature themes surrounding death. Sexual references. Alcohol references. Violence, fights and descriptions of Jake’s fatal accident. Coarse language, f***, s***.
Published: 1 March 2016 by Sourcebooks Fire.
Format: Hardcover, ebook. 400 pages.