When You Were Here
by Daisy Whitney
Original publication date: June 4, 2013
Length: 272 pages
Publisher: Little, Brown Books
Obtained Via: Won through a giveaway
Format Read In: Hardback
Purchase on Amazon:When You Were Here
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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 was afraid to read When You Were Here for multiple reasons. One, I have attempted to read two Daisy Whitney books(Starry Nights and The Mockingbirds). I DNF-ed one and didn’t like the other. And two, I also lost my mom to cancer and I’ve talked about how that affects books I read sometimes, like in my review of A Monster Calls. I shouldn’t have worried. This book was both sad and beautiful, but it felt different than most of the other grief books I’ve read.
I was surprised by how much I liked Danny as a narrator. At the beginning, he’s quite angry, and while I understand why, it’s hard to sympathize with someone who can do things like hit cars and get away with it because the insurance and money can just take care of it all. At the beginning of the story, Danny is parent-less soon after turning eighteen, legally an adult, but because of his family’s moderate wealth he doesn’t have to worry about the type of things a lot of teenagers in his situation would. I thought this would alienate me from the story, but this plot line is handled well. Danny realizes his unique position, even when he’s being a jerk at times, so while I can’t say I always liked him, I definitely felt him.
And as the story went on, I did grow to like Danny a lot. I felt a lot of his pain in my own experience, and I understood the feeling of wanting to get away. I liked that there was actually a reason for Danny to go to Japan–it was impulsive, yes, but it had a reasoning behind it. And I really loved the Japan setting. Whitney really utilized the setting of most of this book to it’s fullest potential.
This book was just filled with little things that made me love it even more. When You Were Here just had such heart behind it, which is the kind of thing that’s hard to pinpoint in books but also can really make a book special. Once again, the setting was so well-done, and I loved the mutual friendship in this book. Also, Sandy Koufax, the dog in this book, just made me so happy. I love when main characters are pet owners.
As much as I loved this book, there was one subplot I thought really distracted from the main story. It deals with Holland, Danny’s ex-girlfriend, who comes back into his life after his mother dies. Throughout the book, Danny learns the truth, and why I understand why this subplot was included, I just felt it wrapped up too quickly and either needed to be completely cut or explored better. There’s more to the story than that, but it’s quite spoilery.
When You Were Here was an amazing book. Danny was a character I felt for all the time, even when I thought he was making dumb decisions in his grief. I loved how this book was only partially about grief, but also a lot about living life to the fullest, as cliche as that sounds, and taking pleasures in the simple things. I loved the exploration of Japan and most of the characters. This is really more of a 4.5, because with the exception of one subplot, this book was near perfect to me. 4/5 cupcakes.