Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney


Title: When You Were Here

Author: Daisy Whitney

Rating: 4 Stars

As far as Young Adult - and New Adult - is concerned, When You Were Here has so much to offer. Whitney has broken free of the constraints these two genres seem to impale and created a novel that, really, has so much to love. From the beginning itself, the grief of Danny, our narrator, is so palpable. Not only has Danny's mother recently passed away after a long, five-year battle with cancer, but his father was killed in a car crash years back and he is now alone. With graduation looming around the corner, Danny is reminded of his mother - and her loss - even more, especially as his graduation was what she lived for. And ultimately couldn't see. Now, Danny is simply seeking answers, both of his mother's life and his own. Quite simply, Danny cannot understand how his mother, who was dying, could be so happy when he, well and truly alive, cannot be.

And this is such a beautiful idea to explore. I feel as if life is always throwing us curves, testing us to our limits, and this question, this unattainable answer of happiness, is forever crossing our minds. Or at least mind, at any rate. As such, to see Danny attempt to answer this in his own way, on a trip to Tokyo, the city he loves, was a truly beautiful journey. Danny is grieving, he is sarcastic, he is in pain, and yet he is curious and his love for Tokyo and its culture and lifestyle is so palpable. Everything about the setting of this novel, including the people Danny meets there who soon become his friends, are so vividly written and portrayed. Whitney's characters are fleshed out and solid, the type of people who have flaws and are still loved. And they all have their back stories, their pasts, their problems. And they're all still sticking it out, each day at a time.

For me, this is where my issues with this novel begin to emerge. While I appreciate the efforts Whitney took in creating such stark and realistic characters, I do feel as if our exposure to them was too minimal. Danny's sister, for instance, who is adopted shares a gripping story of her own growth and acceptance into finding herself in her Chinese roots. Clearly, while this is important to Danny, that importance is never felt to the reader for her screen time is so short. Even the characters who did play a greater role, such as Kana, the Japanese girl Danny befriends, remain static upon the page because, despite their depth and impact on Danny, their influence is never fully felt emotionally.

And yet, When You Were Here does have its emotional moments. Danny himself undergoes a slow, creeping growth that, though concluding in a neat epiphany, was very well-written. Holland, though, had the story that drew me in the deepest. Danny has had a massive crush on Holland, his neighbor and the daughter of his mother's best friend, ever since he was young. With carefully timed flashbacks and present-day scenes, their love story is built up, from its nascence to its sudden end. Surprisingly, though, the romance is subtle, never resorting to meaningless drama and proving to be rather poignant overall. Even the sex scenes - the few of them that lie in this book - are awkward and realistic, making me adore this novel for the places it was willing to go and the boundaries it was willing to climb over.

Still, the fact remains that, in the end, When You Were Here didn't do a whole lot for me. It was a quick and memorable read, one that managed to pack a punch in its short pages, but sadly not enough of a punch. Whitney's novel has been compared to Forman's Where She Went and while I believe that fans of Forman will find much to love in Whitney's latest, the two novels are vastly dissimilar. Where Forman's work is marketed as a romance, proving to be an in-depth analysis on a young man as he comes to terms with himself and his life, Whitney's novel is really about a young man...and so many more people too. Danny's story was not the all-consuming emotional investment I expected it to be. Granted, it's a lovely book, full of tales that will likely influence many readers, but it didn't do much for me simply because I wanted more from it. And the fault most definitely lies with me - I am not an easy reader to please. On that count, When You Were Here is a beautiful edition to your shelves (LOOK at that cover!) and a touching novel with unforgettable characters. Just don't expect too much from it and it will likely deliver the full impact you want it to.

18 comments:

  1. I'm sorry to hear you didn't love this one as much as I did, Keertana, but I understand where you're coming from, as well. For the most part, I think that Daisy did a wonderful job of painting the most important elements and characters in the strongest light, but there were, of course, some aspects that were lacking. Oh well...perhaps the next one by the author will work better for you! Great review :)

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  2. Well, I'll take a smaller emotional punch over no emotional punch at all, so at least there was enough of a connection to the characters for that to happen! I haven't read Gayle Forman's work (I know), so I won't have that basis for comparison, but I'm glad to see this one still got a 4 from you Keertana! Beautiful and thoughtful review:)

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  3. Fantastic review! I'm glad that even thought it wasn't all it could have been, it at least made some sort of emotional impact.

    Taylor @ Reading is the Thing

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  4. Hmm. I am pretty excited for this one, but now I think I will temper down my hopes. And also wait for paperback instead of ordering a hardback right away.

    And I really dislike incorrect comparisons. DON'T compare something to Forman if it is not like Forman! Ugh! That is one of the reasons I was so eager to get to this. Thanks for the warning!

    Lovely review, Keertana. Youalways help me sort out my TBR :D

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  5. I'm kind of scared of reading New Adult - they mostly go over the similar ideas and topics and I get tired of it. This one sounds like something different and I think I'll give it a try. Great review :)

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  6. THis is beautiful, heartfelt review, K. You ARE hard to please, but that is one reason why I respect your opinion so much. You are upfront about what you like and don't, what works for you and doesn't. I am very eager to get my hands on this story. I love books set in different countries and a well done male voice. I hoping that I connect a bit better to this one than you did, but I'm glad that you DID like this story overall.

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  7. Wow, this sounds better than I would had thought! I'm glad you thought that this was beautiful, because I can see that the characters are very relatable!

    Brilliant review, doll! <33

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  8. The reviews have been great for this book, so I'm glad that you found When You Were Here to be a truly fantastic read too. I love my realistic reads, but even more so when they are written so well, this definitely sounds like a beautiful read which I must pick up soon! Lovely review!

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  9. I did LOVE Where She Went and I wonder why this is being marketed as similar when it sounds so very different by your description. I'm not sure if this story would be for me. Flashbacks can be tricky and I don't know that I like the sound of the romance. Wonderful review, Keertana. :)

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  10. I think the fact that both these books are narrated by heartbroken young men is what makes them "similar" though they really are very different. And I do think you'd enjoy this romance, by the way, though it's different from what you're used to. I still have a feeling you'd appreciate it. :)

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  11. sorry this one didn't pack as much of a punch as you hoped, K! I just won a copy in a giveaway and am REALLY excited to read it:)

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  12. Too bad it didn't wow you, but I do like that it still gave you somewhat of an emotional impact. I'm not huge on the contemp YA/NA, but have read several I did enjoy. This might be one of them, but I do think I'll wait a while until I'm in the book for one. Brilly review. You got me considering this one! :)

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  13. Lovely review, Keertana! It's a frustrating experience for sure to end a book wanting more from it than you received, and that's unfortunate that this happened to you with this book. Still, you had much to recommend about this book and, based on what you've written and reviews already out there, I have no doubt that this book will find its target audience. As for me, I found myself agreeing with a lot of what you want in your books, so that coupled with the fact that I wasn't a fan of Gayle Forman's work, leads me to believe this probably isn't for me either.

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  14. I was all excited to read this book, but then after reading your review and a few others I think I might skip this one. I'm not sure if I'd like Danny or Holland. I think if I read this book I would read it for Kana because she sounds like the best character. Also I feel like the whole jumping on a plane and going to Tokyo a bit strange. I feel like I'd be questioning all the financial support aspect. It's not like all teenagers have a pocket where money magically appears and you can go to Tokyo in a whim.

    Great Review as always Keertana!
    Cheers,
    Savindi

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  16. After reading your review, Keertana, I have a feeling this book might not be for me. Though I was having some doubts even before I read your thoughts. I'm sorry it didn't meet all of your expectations, but at least it wasn't all bad and you enjoyed some parts! I hate when there's not enough character development and it always affects my reading enjoyment significantly. Thanks for the great review! I'm glad I read this review before picking up the book and realizing it wasn't for me. :D

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  17. This sounds like an excellent read even if it did leave you feeling a bit conflicted, character-wise.
    For me, all those young adult and especially new adult contemporaries are starting to blend together. At least this one doesn't follow the usual patterns. That alone is enough to make me interested.

    Sorry for being so horrible at commenting lately. The finals have started, and once I commence grading, all bets are off. :(

    Oh, and I totally agree about the cover. Worth having on your shelves.

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  18. Oh yes, the cover of this one is gorgeous. I actually really want to read some Daisy Whitney, but I think this is last on my list as I don't do well with dead mom stories. I think I'd rather start with Mockingbird, and am very excited to hear more about her upcoming speculative fiction book. I'm glad you enjoyed this one though! Even if some of the side characters needed to be flushed out more.

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