When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Goodreads: 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 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.
My thoughts: My thoughts: I can't quite decide how well I liked this book. There were things about it that I really liked and then things about it that seemed very pointless. There were some very heartbreaking moments but after awhile, it felt contrived and inauthentic. We start at Danny's graduation. He's popping pills and sleeping with a hot medical resident. He lives alone in a house with a pool, he's valedictorian and he has plenty of money. Must be nice.
What's not nice is that Danny's mom died of cancer two months ago after she promised to make it to his graduation. His dad died 6 years ago in an accident. His adopted sister disowned the family at her high school graduation. He lost his girl when she dumped him. If it were a country song, he'd have lost his dog and pick-up truck. But no, he still has his dog. He never had a pick-up.
So now he, alone, has the onerous chore of cleaning out the house, keeping or selling it, cleaning out the Tokyo apartment, keeping or selling it, figuring out how to keep his dog with him at UCLA, dealing with his grief alone and keeping the love of his life at arm's length because she keeps coming around and pretending like nothing is wrong. So he does the most logical thing in the world. He flies off to Tokyo.
So I think you can see why a reader might be scratching her head at this point. Am I really that out of touch with how a teenage mind thinks? I realize that grieving is an individual thing but his valedictorian speech was one dimensional to me. He's grieving. I get that. He has fallen into the "I get a free pass for any bad behavior for awhile." Ooookaaaay. But the full embracing of that behavior is a little off putting. Especially for a valedictorian.
Okay. But I get it. He's not facing up to the fact that he's not only sad but really ticked off. He's agnostic so he hasn't much to go on about death. I understand that the first few chapters set the scene for how lost he really is. Weird as it seems, when he gets to Tokyo, I started to engage and I ended the book with some satisfaction.
It's really a message of hope, peace, forgiveness and knowing when to let go. The subjects are pretty intense and not for a younger reader. There's a lot of fluff in the story that ends up being part of the message. In regards to the message, it's a worthwhile read. In regards to the story, at least he still has his dog.