When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney Review

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Title: When You Were Here
Author: Daisy Whitney (Twitter)
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publish Date: June 4, 2013
Genre: YA, Contemporary
Pages: 257
Source: Publisher

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.
Danny is adrift. He just lost his mother, his life is spinning into a world that is darker, harder to emotionally process and, frankly, he's completely overwhelmed by everything that needs to be done. When a letter arrives from his mother's treatment facility in Tokyo, it's his chance to step away from it all, process what has happened and maybe, just maybe find out how to cope with his mother's death and how to take the first steps in moving on. But first, he needs to set forth on a journey of self-discovery.

When I look for contemporary fiction to read, I look for something that will actually tug at my heartstrings and make me feel something. There is something to be said for a book that can coax you to the brink of tears, and then ever-so-carefully walk you back off that ledge and help heal you through its pages. I've read some of Daisy Whitney's work before, and I have to say that When You Were Here is a standout among not only her titles, but many books on the shelves today. Intricately weaving the arduous process of grieving with an incredible journey of self-discovery, When You Were Here not only tugs at your heartstrings, but will help you heal and find a sense of peace.

So often in YA books, we're presented with a male narrator whose voice is far less than authentic, disingenuous and, frankly, a mere shade of what we might consider a teenage boy to truly sound and act like. When You Were Here, however, gives us an eighteen-year-old boy in Danny, and we can sense the authenticity of his voice from the start. Rather than simply telling us how he feels in the wake of extraordinary loss, we watch as he expresses his pain through his actions and interactions with others, breathing life into what could have been a very shallow and lifeless story. Throughout the story, we're presented secondary characters such as Kana, who helped care for his mother's apartment during her treatment. I was so worried we'd be offered a cloying and false relationship for instant gratification and momentary comfort, but instead we're offered a powerful character who offers Danny friendship when he needs it most. One of the most powerful elements for me, however, was the introduction of Holland, Danny's ex, and how her storyline was ultimately ingrained within his own. We learn that appearances and pretenses can be deceiving, and there is much more to her story and, because of this, Danny's story, as well. Through it all, When You Were Here breaks us down to our barest emotions, then helps us slowly and gently piece ourselves and our emotions back together with great humility, which is an incredibly powerful thing to do.

I know that I'm writing a dissertation here, but When You Were Here was such a beautifully-crafted book that I could sing its praises all day. With a true and genuine voice and endless heart, this book is pure magic. I give it a 5 out of 5, and I recommend it to all fans of YA, especially those who enjoy contemporary fiction. I do want to advice readers of tasteful sexual situations, so this might be for an upper YA audience.

I received this book free of charge from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This, in no way, affected my opinion or review of this book.


  1. I heard a rumour you were bag to blogging! Hi!! *waves*

    I also totally loved this one. I don't read a lot of books that I know will make me sad, but I will always read whatever Daisy Whitney writes. She has a way of writing tough situations, but really having hope in there as well.

  2. I can't wait to read this one. I have it waiting for me on my ereader. So glad you loved it.

  3. Hi Ashley!!! This book is fantastic...despite the sadness, I felt healed by the end. It's amazing, huh?!

  4. This sounds amazing. I saw the author's tweet about the book being perfect for fans of The Fault In Our Stars and i'm really looking forward to it. It's been a while since a book really made me cry, and it's been even longer since I read a book with an authentic male POV. Great insight, Melissa!

    - Ellie at The Selkie Reads Stories

  5. i MUST MUST MUST read this book! I love that it's told from a male POV and it's great to hear that Daisy Whitney gives this character such authenticity.

  6. "There is something to be said for a book that can coax you to the brink
    of tears, and then ever-so-carefully walk you back off that ledge and
    help heal you through its pages."

    LOVE that Melissa! Just gorgeous. I haven't read anything by Daisy, but I clearly need to, and I will definitely be starting with this one. Anything you give a 5 to I know is something I can't go another minute without reading:)

  7. I rarely read books written from a male POV (not any specific reason, just don't know of many), but this one sounds really good.

  8. I'm so excited for this book and I love that it's so incredible. I feel like not enough books deal with upper YA or even sex since it seems to be taboo, so I'm glad to see that along with travel and grief. I cannot wait to get my hands on this now! :D Fantastic review!

  9. Thank you so much! I'm really glad that people are open to reading these topics because it seemed to be soooo forbidden before.

  10. This one is done really, really well. I hope you try it!

  11. Thanks, lady! Honestly, this book is pure gold. It's fantastic.

  12. It's amazing, Tara! I hope you do read it soon because Daisy made an incredible story here.

  13. It really is THAT beautiful. I think you'll like it, Ellie!

  14. I SO do, Mary! It's really really genuine, and it's so heartfelt.

  15. Everything about this book was awesome for me. I agree that it's hard sometimes to find a good authentic male narrator but I loved him. And I loved Kana, which surprised me because sometimes those off, quirky characters don't work for me. But I adored this book so so much, too.

  16. I've been struggling through this book for a while now. I'm not sure what it is but I'm only 12% in and I don't care for Danny or the story. Sad, isn't it? But I'm so happy you loved it! I'm going to continue reading because of it!

  17. Danny sounds very well written. Seems like such a great, emotional story....You've made me incredibly excited for this book!

    Outstanding review, Melissa! :)

  18. Don't you just love when you find a truly authentic teen voice (be it girl or guy)? There's just something about reading a story where the teen acts like a teen and can grab the reader emotionally. Plus, a 5-er! Nice!

  19. This sounds fantastic, Melissa. I haven't read tons of books with male narrators, but I find that when I do, I usually end up liking them a lot.


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