When You Were Here

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4.2 (2)
 
3.5 (2)
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When You Were Here
Author(s)
Age Range
12+
Release Date
June 04, 2013
ISBN
0316209740
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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 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.

Editor reviews

2 reviews

Stunning and Incredibly Powerful
Overall rating 
 
5.0
Plot 
 
5.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
5.0
When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney was such a powerful book. It tackles the hard hitting subjects of death and coping, along with acceptance, first love, and growth.

I loved how flawlessly Daisy Whitney weaves in not only a new setting, but really a people's culture and way of life. It is a rare thing in many novels for this to be so authentic, but it just felt like I was right there next to Danny in Tokyo.

In addition to the intriguing setting, the story is told not only through writing, but there is a sense that there are many layers: through the letters left behind, the letters sent, photographs, emails. It all adds up to one bigger picture, even though the writing tells you everything you need to know.

"It makes me like Tokyo more, seeing it through your eyes."

I love the layers even the characters themselves bring with one another - one sees something they already know in a different way when another is there to experience it with them.

Also, Sandy Koufax is one of the coolest dogs ever - she has so much character and I just loved the role she plays for Danny. Additionally, I loved Holland, and I just constantly wanted to know more about her - what exactly was her story. Kana is very spunky and someone so many people can admire. She isn't afraid of what others say or think about her; instead she completely owns it.

When You Were Here is absolutely heartbreaking - beautiful, but heartbreaking none the less. It brought out all the feelings at so many points throughout the book. I loved Daisy Whitney's debut, The Mockingbirds, and its followup, The Rivals, but I think When You Were Here was even stronger than the pair. It was such an empowering story that had me completely engrossed the entire time.
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Touching Tale of the Loss of Loved Ones
Overall rating 
 
3.3
Plot 
 
3.0
Characters 
 
3.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
What I Loved:
I do think When You Were Here is an excellent book, well-written and meaningful. Daisy Whitney considers cancer in a way I've not encountered before. The focus is less on the disease itself but how Danny's mom lived with the disease. Whitney brings When You Were Here to a sweet, uplifting conclusion, but one that does not feel overly optimistic, rather real and hopeful.

My favorite parts were after Danny went to Japan to find out about his mom's life when she was there, after receiving a note from the caretaker of the family's apartment in Japan about the disposal of her almost unused medications. Curious about why she wasn't taking them, angry that she may not have been trying her hardest to live until his graduation like she always promised, he decides to fly to Japan spur of the moment. Those chapters where he explores Tokyo were beautiful and made me want to go there even more.

In Tokyo, he meets the caretaker's daughter, Kana, a couple years older than he is (just graduated from high school). Kana is the best, so unapologetically herself. She dresses as crazy as our stereotypes of Japan, wearing boots a drag queen would envy and things like that. If anyone gives her a hard time, she gives it back, even to hissing at them on the streets. Immediately, she befriends Danny, determines to help him find happiness and to find more of it herself, since she no longer loves Tokyo and he does. Their friendship grows quickly and its strong and delightful. He needs her, and meeting her is like a gift his mom left for him. I also just love that this is one of the only examples of a strong male-female friendship in fiction. There's no sexual tension or chance that they'll date. They love each other as friends and nothing more, even though both are single.

What Left Me Wanting More:
What kept me from loving this book were the main characters, Danny and Holland. Not only did I not connect with them, but I feel an active dislike for them. Whitney does a good job of establishing their flaws, but I'm not nearly as forgiving as the average person. When the reader meets Danny, he's as angsty as Nastya and Josh from The Sea of Tranquility, which, in case you haven't read that, means angsty as fuck. Now, he does have good reason to feel this angst: father years dead, adopted sister estranged from the family, dumped by the girlfriend he loves, and mother recently dead, not having lasted to his graduation. I do feel bad for him, but the self-destructive way he reacts to it in no way endears me to him. The only times I like Danny are when he is with or thinking about his dog, Sandy Koufax. His love for her is what keeps me from hating him entirely, proving that he's a good person.

Holland, on the other hand, has a whole subplot going on about her, but I can't go into details because they would be spoilery. Suffice it to say that I think she treated Danny abominably and stupidly. Again, it makes sense why she did, but I still think it was messed up and I can't just forgive her for that. I found her hugely irritating besides. Except for that one plot point, she's a total manicpixiedreamgirl, made of perfection. Adding a sappy plot to make her not perfect didn't fix that for me. Also, that plot is something I intentionally avoid; had I known about it, I never would have read When You Were Here, so much do I not like that subject matter. That's totally a personal thing, however, and don't let my own distaste scare you off, since trusted friends have been loving this.

The Final Verdict:
All in all, When You Were Here is a beautiful novel, but one that I am not the ideal reader for. Though I do love darker contemporaries, I was not ready for another incredibly angsty character and I also feel distaste some of the subject matter. As I said, trusted friends have loved this, so don't write it off based solely on my opinions and my own personal biases.
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User reviews

2 reviews

Overall rating 
 
3.5
Plot 
 
4.0  (2)
Characters 
 
3.0  (2)
Writing Style 
 
3.5  (2)
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Lovely
Overall rating 
 
4.3
Plot 
 
4.0
Characters 
 
5.0
Writing Style 
 
4.0
This book was both sad and beautiful, but it felt different than most of the other grief books I’ve read.

I was surprised by how much I liked Danny as a narrator. At the beginning, he’s quite angry, and while I understand why, it’s hard to sympathize with someone who can do things like hit cars and get away with it because the insurance and money can just take care of it all. At the beginning of the story, Danny is parent-less soon after turning eighteen, legally an adult, but because of his family’s moderate wealth he doesn’t have to worry about the type of things a lot of teenagers in his situation would. I thought this would alienate me from the story, but this plot line is handled well. Danny realizes his unique position, even when he’s being a jerk at times, so while I can’t say I always liked him, I definitely felt him.

And as the story went on, I did grow to like Danny a lot. I felt a lot of his pain in my own experience, and I understood the feeling of wanting to get away. I liked that there was actually a reason for Danny to go to Japan–it was impulsive, yes, but it had a reasoning behind it. And I really loved the Japan setting. Whitney really utilized the setting of most of this book to it’s fullest potential.

This book was just filled with little things that made me love it even more. When You Were Here just had such heart behind it, which is the kind of thing that’s hard to pinpoint in books but also can really make a book special. Once again, the setting was so well-done, and I loved the mutual friendship in this book. Also, Sandy Koufax, the dog in this book, just made me so happy. I love when main characters are pet owners.
As much as I loved this book, there was one subplot I thought really distracted from the main story. It deals with Holland, Danny’s ex-girlfriend, who comes back into his life after his mother dies. Throughout the book, Danny learns the truth, and why I understand why this subplot was included, I just felt it wrapped up too quickly and either needed to be completely cut or explored better. There’s more to the story than that, but it’s quite spoilery.
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When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney
Overall rating 
 
2.7
Plot 
 
4.0
Characters 
 
1.0
Writing Style 
 
3.0
I thought when I wrote this review I'd be an emotional wreck. I actually just lost my aunt in the same fashion he lost his mom, so I was thinking I might not even have a review for this because I wouldn't be able to see through the tears. To be frank, I was wrong.
Te entire time I didn't understand Danny. In my head I was screaming "Don't do that, your mom just died. She would not appreciate that!" I felt like he wasn't in mourning, just acting out. Don't get me wrong, everyone mourns in their own way, but really the graduation thing was a bit much. Where I'm from, they would have with held his diploma for a stunt like that, I'm just saying. And Kate should have strangled him for that. And really I just couldn't understand what a woman who was already in her residency wanted with a dude that was barely graduating high school... I'm not one to judge, but that definitely isn't for me. As far as the Holland situation, I just didn't like hw she handled it. She should not have done that by herself. She should have let him know so she wouldn't have to be alone. Maybe with him there and that extra help she wouldn't have been as stressed and saved the situation completely. But that's just me.
With that being said, I just couldn't connect with the characters. And because of that, I was turned away from the emotional aspect of this book as well. As stated, I expected to be crying my eyes ut. Especially for this to be such an emotional story and to feature so much loss. Me and Danny shared something kind of deep, but even in that aspect I couldn't handle that. Because of this, I barely felt anything while reading this. I just felt mad. And disappointed.
The one thing I did like about the story was the visions of Tokyo I received while reading this. Whitney gave enough descriptions that I felt like I was looking at everything with my own eyes. I learned all Japan, from its legends to its fashion.
I really feel like the black sheep since everyone else loved this, but in my honest opinion the delivery of the emotion and the characters was poorly executed. Thank goodness I was able to learn a little something about a foreign culture or I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it at all.
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