When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney – Reviewed by Jillian Heise
I adore Daisy Whitney, and loved her debut, The Mockingbirds and it’s follow-up, The Rivals, so I was anxiously awaiting her next book. I knew this one would have a different tone than her others, and I was intrigued by her writing in a teen male’s voice. I’m so glad to be able to say that I loved this book. In fact, I’m not sure that’s even a strong enough emotion for what I feel about this story.
First Thoughts: When You Were Here is an achingly, heartbreakingly, healingly incredible novel. It ripped me apart and stitched me back together one small piece/scene/conversation at a time.
I thought I knew where this book was headed. I thought I knew what Danny’s trajectory would be. He’s just shredded when we meet him in the beginning. He’s grieving. His father’s been gone a long time. His mother is just recently gone. He’s lost the girl he loves. High school is over. He’s aimless and doesn’t know which direction to turn. So he heads to Tokyo, his home away from his California home with his family. He needs to discover why his mom didn’t make it to his graduation, why the cancer took her too early. He needs to find a way to feel again, something, anything. He needs to find a way to discover if he can ever not be hurting. He finds Kana, a new friend, and rekindles his love of a city he belongs in. Then, nineteen chapters in, a jaw-droppingly unexpected event is revealed that changed my entire perception of the direction this book was headed. Danny’s journey becomes about much more, and it’s a true discovery of self and life and love and healing and being at peace with death. And I was enamored with every word of it.
There’s something about Daisy Whitney’s writing style that I feel so comfortable immersing myself in. She’s a fantastic contemporary voice with deep emotion and flawed characters and hope. She deftly created a balance between what is happening in the moment, and flashing back to the events in the past that led to Danny and Holland being at this point. My emotions were in turmoil throughout reading Danny’s story. I was so caught up in his emotions, I mostly just wanted to give him a big hug throughout, and by the end, I just wanted to hug the book to me and not let it go. When You Were Here is one of those books that is going to stay with me. I was feeling so many emotions by the end (and, yes, needed kleenex handy); it touched on nerves deep within my soul, and the journey I took with Danny made a lasting impact on me.
Final Thought: Some books are hard to let go of and forget – this one will be with me for a long time because of its sincerity and how it hits just the right notes.
At only 257 pages, I think When You Were Here will appeal to most teens; however, due to some mature content, I would recommend for high school age. Pre-order this one for its June 4th release date at your favorite book retailer…just in time for #bookaday.
Jillian Heise has been teaching middle school language arts for eight years giving her the opportunity to discuss thoughts and insights about books with real teen readers. She is currently teaching 7th & 8th graders at a K-8 school near Milwaukee, Wisconsin. During the first year at this new school, her students are getting used to her sharing her reading life, the importance of making reading a habit, appreciation for rockstar authors, and love of fictional characters with them. She also shares her book recommendations with a wider audience on her blog, Heise Reads & Recommends. Jillian is a voracious reader and self-admitted book pusher with towering TBR stacks and does not feel the need for a program to change that. On twitter, she is @heisereads and is always happy to recommend a book to any reader in need.