Top Social

Review: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

Thursday, June 20, 2013

When You Were Here

Genre: YA Contemporary
Hardback: 272 Pages
Publication: June 4, 2013 by Little Brown BFYR


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.

◆ A copy was provided by Little Brown for review ◆

Danny has suffered much loss over the years. The only remaining member of his family is his dog Sandy Koufax (named after his favorite baseball player... by his mom), and he finds himself itching to leave his home and escape everything. So he escapes to his favorite place--Tokyo, where his mom had hoped to find a cure but instead seems to have made peace with her life and imminent death. There, Danny hopes to find the same peace that his mom did and hopefully find a way to continue living.

Danny is a very real character in his grief. I've never had to go through what he did, and hopefully it'll be a long while before I begin to feel the beginnings of his pain. Sometimes he does stupid things just because he has a "get free card" thanks to his loss, and it's frustrating to see himself wreck himself like that. His journey of healing is slow and very real. It doesn't come as one big revelation at the end like many similar novels do; rather, it comes a little bit at a time, like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together. At times, Danny finds out something that throws the greater picture out of whack, but he never gives up hope as he persists in finding out the truth behind his mom's ventures in Japan and, more importantly, more about himself and what he has to live for.

The side characters are somewhat detached from the story. While I know that they're there, and I know what I like and dislike about them, they're never fully present. It's okay because this story focuses on Danny's inner development and his path to finding peace in life and moving on. Kana is the funny, eccentric Asian girl with a sense of humor. I like the friendship that forms between her and Danny. It's something that he needs--a good friend with whom he can really talk without worry. And she's good for him, unlike Holland, the girl who twists his heart and brings him so much grief. Honestly, I can understand why Holland did what she did to him, but I still can't bring myself to quite like her. She hurt him a lot at a time when he really needed her. I don't know why he still loves her. The only bright side to their relationship that I see is how Danny finally comes to terms with his feelings for her, which brings a nice resolution to the novel.

Another thing I really like about this novel is how effortlessly it incorporates a foreign setting into the novel--and better yet, one that has heartfelt meaning to some of the characters. There isn't any great wow moment or anything about going to Japan. No, it's a natural part of the picture, and everything comes in stride. I never felt like an outsider while in Japan with Danny. The story doesn't take time to explain everything to me. Everything flows together, and the context and writing does such a great job of portraying the setting to me that I didn't feel a need to ask for more details. Better yet, Danny and Kana show us the everyday life, not the tourist-y attractions that come immediately to mind when thinking about a foreign country.

When You Were Here is an emotional story about death, life, forgiveness, and making peace. It is about about moving on from the ghosts of the past to live in the present. It is about finding meaning in the every day. I recommend this to those who enjoy a good angsty contemporary read.

Similar Books
  • Language
  • Kissing
  • Sex

3 comments on "Review: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney"
  1. I love Daisy Whitney's novels. I will definitely pick this one up ASAP because of Danny and Kana. They sound like lovely characters and Japan is one of my favorite countries. I'm glad they skip the touristy stuff, though. Self-destruction is really painful to read about because it's just heartbreaking.

    Great review, Kris!

    1. Yeah, this is a heartbreaking novel, yet I can't help but be drawn to such books. And the Japanese setting is totally worth it. Thanks for stopping by, Julie!

  2. Great review! I love nice little light contemporary books like this to read. The characters sound so cute too. <3


Thanks for commenting. We love hearing from readers! To receive notifications of replies to your comments, just click “Notify me” in the bottom right corner of the comment box to subscribe to the thread! :)