When You Were Here
Pub 6-2013, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Love and loss are two of the most powerful experiences the human soul can have. One is filled with joy and awakening, the other with sorrow and longing. Yet they often go hand-in-hand: One brings pain, and the other healing. This is the overarching theme of Daisy Whitney’s When You Were Here, the story of a young man trying to find closure after his mother’s death. He manages to find love in ways that bring unexpected healing.
Two months before his graduation, Danny Kellerman’s mother lost her battle with cancer. After losing his father six years before, and his adopted sister more or less deserting his family, Danny really doesn’t think he can take much more. Searching for solace, he flies to his family’s old apartment in Tokyo. There, he meets Kana, a girl with whom he forms an unlikely friendship. While dealing with his mother’s death, Danny also trying to figure out why Holland, his childhood companion and onetime girlfriend, has been acting distant. During his time in Tokyo, Danny discovers that his mother had found a method of healing that may not have saved her life, but did provide comfort for her soul.
Love is the driving force in When You Were Here, and appears in many different forms. There is the love that existed between Danny and his mother: the unconditional, ever-present kind only found between a parent and a child. There is the love between Danny and Kana: not romantic, but a strong brother-sister bond that forms after only a few weeks. And there is the love between Danny and Holland: one which proves that, even in the face of tragedy and distance, when two people are meant to be together, they will find a way. The forms love assumes in this story enable Danny to find healing and hope.
As a person who has never experienced the loss of a parent, I can’t say with a hundred percent authority that this book tackles grief in an authentic way.
However, what I have witnessed in the lives of others leads me to believe that this is an honest, very well-written account of the grieving process. At the beginning, Danny is angry and confused, but by the end he has reached a point of closure and assurance. Yes, he has gone through a horrible experience, but healing is possible. His development as a character is without flaw; Danny changes from a person who can’t see what good can come from tragedy, to someone who is ready to move forward.
Brilliantly executing the difficult themes of love and death, Daisy Whitney has created a story that tells the truth about grief: It is difficult to endure, but there is always a way to move on. If death is the cut, then love is the balm that heals the wounds Danny has incurred.
- Rachel P., 17