Friday, December 20, 2013

Book Review: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney (no spoilers)

Book: When You Were Here
Author: Daisy Whitney
Publication: June 4th, 2013
Source: Local Library
Rating: 5/5 Stars
Summary (From 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 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:
When You Were Here starts out on the day of Danny's graduation. His mother died two months earlier after losing her five year battle with cancer. Graduation was the one day his mom wanted to see. I can relate to this aspect as I graduated from high school this year and was praying that my own grandparents would be able to attend my graduation. Tears filled my eyes to see them there and healthy. Unfortunately things didn't work out like that for Danny. This books was about love, pain, grief, happiness, and forgiveness.

Then Danny gets a letter from Kana talking about possessions left in Japan. Danny decides to buy a one way ticket to Japan and go find out more about his mom. I loved how realistic the character of Daniel was. He was a very realistic male character. He felt lost and didn't know how to make sense of his life after his mother's death. I especially loved the character of Kana. She was energetic, lively, and not afraid to be herself. I loved her relationship with Daniel throughout the novel. She helped Daniel to find out key moments about his mom's life.

Secrets and lies were another key aspect of the book. Daniel's mom kept many secrets in Japan and it was Daniel's job to uncover them. Daniel finds out from Kana more about his adopted sister Laini. Laini was adopted from China and left the family in her college years to live in China. Daniel hasn't heard from her, but he finds out secrets about her while he is in Japan. He finds out more about his ex-girlfriend Holland too. Holland was his mom's best friend's daughter when Daniel and Holland started dating so they already had an easy friendship to build off, but something changed when Holland went away to college. This part was the most intense part of the book. It had me up late to try to read farther and figure out what was going to happen.

The most important theme of this novel was acceptance. Daniel had to come to acceptance with many aspects of his life. He had to make important decisions regarding a variety of situations. He had to find peace and a new life without his mom there to guide hime. When You Were Here was an amazingly, emotional novel, and I would highly suggest reading it. My favorite part of When You Were Here is that it was set in Japan and narrated by a male character. There are both things I don't see very often that made Daisy Whitney's book unique. Daisy Whitney has beautiful writing and gave her characters strong voices throughout the novel. I would gladly read another novel by this author. When You Were Here is a novel I believe many people would enjoy.

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