Published by Little Brown Books For Young Readers on June 4th, 2013
Genres: contemporary, young adult
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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 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.
I read this book on the plane to New York City for BEA, and I finished it on day two while I was trapped in the hotel room with messed up feet. So…this book will always hold a special place in my heart no matter what. I read it at a time in my life when I was experiencing new things and widening my horizons and comfort zone. It’s hard to be subjective about books like that and look at what’s there and see the flaws. But there are some. Fortunately, they are not many, and for the most part I adored this book.
Quickly, what I didn’t like: Holland. She was selfish and a bit annoying. I don’t agree with her reasons for not telling Danny about an issue that was a major twist in the book so I can’t talk about that, but I thought she was wrong. And self-serving. It bothered me and didn’t make a lot of sense. There was also a part of her character that I found unrealistic. Supposedly she had never uttered a swear word in her life. I don’t buy that, and to me it didn’t fit her characterization.
I also found that I lacked an emotional connection to the book. As much as I loved the writing and most of the characters and fell for the story, I expected to feel more. And for me when reading, emotions are EVERYTHING. If I don’t feel something, there is no way the book is going to get 5 stars. This one is probably more of a 3.5 but I don’t do half stars, so I rounded it up to 4. And I am happy with that rating for the most part.
But now I get to talk about what I loved. I loved the story and the evolution of the characters, all the wonderful scenes set in Japan, and the writing. I think that was my favorite part so I definitely want to talk about that some more. There is something about Daisy Whitney’s prose that just speaks to me and captures my attention. The flow of the words, her sentence structure, and word choices are just wonderful. Her writing is simple but poetic and loaded with imagery that makes you see what she’s writing about in new ways. I adore it. And I am very picky about my writing styles and writer voices, and it’s not very often that it works for me very perfectly. When it comes to the emotion that I lacked, I think it may have been due to the subject matter, which is a personal preference, and again, due to spoilers, not something I can talk about.
I also truly enjoyed Danny, his voice, and his development as a character. I tend to really gravitate to the novels with male protagonists, and it can be hard for a female writer to do the male voice perfectly, and a male writer to do a female voice well. But I feel that Daisy Whitney did an impeccable job with Danny. He was angry, sarcastic, and funny all at once and I really liked him. Especially when it came to the subject matter of Cancer and his mother because that disease has wreaked a lot of havoc in my family and it is something very difficult for me to read about. I thought she captured Danny’s feelings well and I know she must have some experience with that disease because it felt very realistic to me. I can tell when an author is faking it, and I am 99.9% sure there was no faking it here.
I’d also like to say that if Cancer is a topic you just can’t read about, I think it might be okay to make an exception for this book. I always felt like I would never read about it, but I’m glad I did. I made the choice to read this because of the Japanese setting, and that was the right thing to do because I thought all the difficult aspects of this novel were handled exceptionally well. I think some people might have problems with Holland and the twist, but other than those issues, I found this book to be a truly great contemporary and I cannot recommend it enough.
Ummmm and I loved the dog. Sandy Koufax was a dollface.