Book Review: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

Posted February 5, 2014 by Stormy in Books / 11 Comments

When You Were Here

by Daisy Whitney

When You Were Here

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.

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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.

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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.

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4 Stars

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11 responses to “Book Review: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

  1. I’m glad you “faced your fears” with this book. It’s hard to read books that deal with situations that have caused you pain/grief/etc. I haven’t really been too enthused to read this one, but I don’t know why. I’m glad that you really enjoyed it and that it didn’t disappoint you like her other books did.

    • stormydawnc

      It was definitely my favorite book from this author! I can only handle books like this in small doses(can’t really read about grief & pain *all* the time), but I’m awfully glad I read it as well. It was fairly therapeutic because of the way it was approached.

  2. I felt the same way you did about this book. I read it shortly after finding out my grandpa was diagnosed with cancer (he’s like a dad to me), and I was worried if I would be able to handle it or not, but like you said, it’s not just about grief. I found the focus on both expressing your grief *and* living life to the fullest to be a really therapeutic experience for me. Also, YES TO SANDY KOUFAX. Seriously, that dog is the bomb.

    • stormydawnc

      Yes! It was so nice to see a book that moves past that initial grief. Those books are important too(and I’ve read some), but at some point, people juggle their grief and their life hand-in-hand, and few books really touch on that topic. And the only problem with Sandy Koufax was that I wanted him in the book more! He was the best literary dog.

  3. I’m definitely afraid to read this one, too. And I’m not sure if I will be able to read it. I’m lucky that my mother didn’t pass away from cancer. She’s a survivor, and I’m so glad. But reading something like this would probably bring those old fears into my mind again.

    However, I am glad that you liked this and was able to identify with some of Danny’s actions.

    • stormydawnc

      It took me many years to get the point I’d read a novel like this–probably only in the last year, really. But it was a beautiful book!

  4. I’ve been meaning to read When You Were Here for a while now but I never got around to reading it. Your review reminded again that I should and I’m happy to hear that When You Were Here had heart in it. I find it hard to read grief novels since it’s so hard to get right. I love how When You Were Here is only partially about grief because I think in the end, grief makes you realize how much more you have to live your life.

    • stormydawnc

      It really did have a lot of heart! And even though this is still a “grief” novel, it moves past that in many ways. It’s not so much the immediate grief afterward, but about transitioning into living your life again in many ways.

  5. I am glad to hear that this book worked for you. There are books about certain topics that I find difficult to read because of events in my life as well.

    • stormydawnc

      Hmm. They both deal with similar situations, but I think I’d say this one isn’t as difficult as A Monster Calls. A Monster Calls deals directly with a parent dying, and the reader is RIGHT THERE as Connor as suffering. In this book, even though the main character has lost his mother and the focus is on his grief, there’s a bit more of a separation. It was definitely tear-worthy at times, but it didn’t exhaust me in the same way emotionally.

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