Title: When You Were Here
Author: Daisy Whitney
Publisher: Little, Brown
Release Date: June 4, 2013
Source: ARC from Publisher
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 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 simply loved Daisy Whitney's first two books and couldn't wait to read When You Were Here. Before reading it, I had heard nothing but amazing things about the book which made me a little apprehensive. But I really shouldn't have worried because Daisy Whitney couldn't' have disappointed me with this book even if she tried.
For the last five years of his life, Danny has been helping his mom fight cancer, helping her hold on so that she could see him graduate from high school. But just weeks before the big event, his mother loses her fight. Now Danny isn't exactly sure how he is supposed to go on now. Being happy was something Danny's mom was the expert on, not him. And with Holland coming back into his life after breaking his heart a year earlier, Danny is at a loss. So when the opportunity to go to Tokyo comes up, Danny decides that if he can't find happiness at home, maybe he can find it on the other side of the world.
As I've mentioned, I absolutely loved Daisy Whitney's first two books, The Mockingbirds and The Rivals, so I was very excited at the prospect of reading her new book. And When You Were Here completely blew me away. This story was both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. I can't say that I related to losing a parent, but the way it was written, I felt the pain associated with that event any time Danny thought about his loss. But despite the sadness this brought to the story, there was a certain feeling of happiness flowing underneath it all until that feeling overpowered the sadness altogether. Because, ultimately, this story felt like it was more about how to find that happiness again when you don't think it's possible to do so. And I loved seeing that aspect of the story, whether it was Danny learning how to be happy despite being alone, or finding happiness and love again when you thought you never would. There was just something so incredibly touching about this story, to the point that I often found myself tearing up, and even smiling through my tears. And Daisy Whitney's writing has this addicting quality, making it so I just can't stop reading once I start.
I'll admit that I wasn't entirely sure how I felt about Danny when I first started reading When You Were Here. He had some self-destructive tendencies and though I could understand why he was the way he was, I expected more of him. But the more I read, the more he grew on me. He gradually turned himself around and I loved seeing that transformation in him. I loved seeing Danny realize that he could do this on his own, that he could be happy and in love again despite all the pain and loss from the past. And I that had a lot to do with Kana. In a way, Kana stole the show for me. While I was reading, she just jumped off the page. The descriptions of Kana were to rich and detailed that I could easily picture her while I was reading. But beyond just being extremely real, she was just so alive and she transferred some of that to Danny. Their friendship was what friendships should be. Danny's relationship with Holland, I wasn't quite as sure about. But the more I read and the more I understood their history, I could see that Danny and Holland were supposed to be together.
It shouldn't come as a surprise, but Daisy Whitney's When You Were Here did not disappoint. This story was at times heartbreaking, but it was also heartwarming, making me believe that happiness and love are two of the most important emotions. Don't stop yourself from reading When You Were Here because it deals with the loss of a parent, because it is about so much more than that. Plus it has an awesome dog.