I Was Here – by Gayle Forman
Young adult fiction (YA) not only covers a lot of subject areas that not so long ago would have been taboo, they are popular.
“I Was Here” by Gayle Forman is one example. An likeable but seemingly unexceptional central character Cody is trying to make sense of her friend Meg who had everything but has recently taken her own life.
During the summer break, my wife Karen and I were driving to a holiday destination and decided to take advantage of the audiobook version which provided nearly 8 hours of listening. Karen, a school teacher librarian, is an avid reader of YA and she holds a simple belief that “books provide a means for young students to enjoy themselves”.
“I Was Here” has an excellent actress reading it whose performance adds depth and interest. Listening with someone else means you can share the experience. Though my wife and I travelled without our post school children, I wondered how effective listening as a family may have been for helping broach this difficult subject with teenagers. The book is excellent, it is suspenseful and thoughtful.
The book follows Cody’s emotional journey while she tries to make sense of Meg’s death. Along the way the story takes on elements of a whodunit and a romance.
Cody, the best friend who grew up a child to a single mother, was part of Meg’s family and she is in disbelief that Meg could have done it and without Cody knowing. Meg had left her small town for College and it is this life that Cody follows to find out more.
Meg’s death by self-poisoning raises many questions, the responsibility of the author for one, but Forman does it well. She was motivated by a story she wrote in Cosmopolitan Magazine about the increasing number of female students in the US who had tried to take their own life. Suzanne Gonzales was one of those. Suzanne in her brief and troubled life had used internet forums to talk about her ideas. Some people encouraged her and she was unfortunately successful.
My wife, Karen, works in a Catholic boys school and she sees herself as a gatekeeper for a Catholic community, she realises she needs to be careful of the representation of things like drugs. She is “slightly censoring”, so suicide is a sensitive topic, and without a certain the level of maturity, it might give someone the idea. Karen believes that “I Was Here” could make a good book for use in a school book club but sees the book and the many issues raised as only being appropriate for 15 plus.
YA is increasingly being used in the school syllabus as an alternative to classic texts. YA explores contemporary issues that are relevant for example Fleur Ferris’ Risk about Cyber Safety set in Melbourne and Looking for Alibrandi which featured teenage suicide.
Sydney writer John Larkin’s novel Pause, also about teenage suicide won the Griffith University Young Adult Book Award at the 2015 Queensland Literary Awards and the film rights have been bought by Looking for Alibrandi director. “I am Here” is also being made into film and is in production.
As Karen says, “YA is turning teenagers on to reading and can get them involved with good content and contemporary stories. YA is fast paced, things are happening and its dialogue driven”.
My experience listening to “I was Here” by Gayle Forman was a really good one – sad, but sensitive, thought provoking and interesting.
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