‘You Were Here’ Is a Vivid Novel of Loss

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100515_a-683x1024Jaycee Strangelove’s life ended the day her brother, Jake, broke his neck the night of his high school graduation. Now graduating high school herself, Jaycee feels adrift and cannot bring herself to make plans for life, college, or career. On Jake’s birthday, Jaycee goes to an old mental hospital that her brother once loved to visit. Accompanying her, much to her chagrin, are her former best friend Natalie, Natalie’s boyfriend Zach, and their melancholy friend Bishop. Jaycee has been returning to the spot since her brother’s death, and holds very dear a single foot print left by her brother. They are also accompanied by Jake’s former friend Mik, a selective mute who has formed a quiet friendship with Jaycee over their years of visiting the abandoned hospital. When the group discovers a note from her brother written on the wall, Jaycee finds a secret area of the hospital. All goes to hell when the cops arrive and Natalie and Zach break up publicly for what seems like the 8,000th time. Natalie drunkenly cheats on Zach at a party, but remembers nothing of the incident, save waking up half naked and vomiting. She is terrified of her life changing when she goes to NYU in just a short time. Jaycee discovers a notebook written by her brother, filled with places where he did urban exploring. Desperately hoping for a message from her deceased brother, Jaycee begins a hunt to find the individual spots he listed, even as the world crumbles around her and her former friends.

Cori McCarthy’s You Were Here is strangely beautiful and equally haunting. Jaycee’s feelings of pain and loss are so vivid, that the reader can’t help but start to feel the rough edges of them as they read. The book is broken up with the occasional illustration, and Mik’s sections are narrated with manga-like images. While I like these occasional interruptions, I did find myself frustrated with the need to switch between an omniscient narrator and Jaycee herself. It would have been better to have all or nothing, peppering a few images in between like a Ransom Riggs novel.  The characters in the book would be ripe for the plucking of a student in a psychology course and each carries a heavy burden. You Were Here is an emotionally difficult read, weaving between feelings of abandonment, loss and the terrifying feelings of not knowing what you did when you were not in control of your body.

You Were Here deals with the issues of alcohol, violence and possible rape, and sensitive viewers should be cautious when picking up the book. It’s one thing to feel the emotions Jaycee suffers; it’s entirely another to have flashbacks.

You Were Here is available March 1, 2016 from Sourcebooks.

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