Suicide and depression demand exploration in fiction. As both subjects become increasingly less taboo – though we’ve some ways to go, societally, to fully acknowledge depression as an illness; a disease, not a pliable outlook on life – writers have penned both heartening and uplifting stories, detailing courageous battles against this invisible enemy, as well as narratives rooted in the reality, that don’t necessarily have a happy ending; or rather, a Hollywood ending, with loose ends all tied up. As a character in Gayle Forman’s I Was Here says: “[Depression] is not something that visits once and disappears.” There’s no full-stop for survivors, just a never-ending battle.
It’s such a challenging subject to adroitly write about; and clumsy execution eradicates any story’s potential potency. Of course, that was never going to be a problem with I Was Here. Forman was proved herself, time and time again, as a wonderful writer, capable of delivering unflinchingly honest portraits of young people’s lives. In this instance, her latest novel focuses on depression, with the suicide of Megan Garcia, friend of Cody, who had no idea how troubled Meg was, and can’t grasp why her supposed best friend didn’t confide in her, or come to her at her hour of need. Forman frames the novel as a mystery, as Cody boldly investigates the death of her best friend, and learns that Meg was in regular contact with a ‘support’ group; the kind that actively encouraged her to end her life rather than put her in contact with professionals who might’ve been able to help. There’s a touch of romance along the way, plenty of self-discovery for Cody, but at its core, I Was Here is a novel rooted in the darkness of depression, and spotlighting its devastating impacts; not just on the sufferer, but on their closest confidants, as well as the wider community.
Importantly, Forman never preaches about the subject. I Was Here is not a sermon wrapped around pretty prose – character remains paramount, and Cody is very real, a young woman who was struggling without her best friend by her side when Meg left for college, and is now simultaneously burdened by the notion she somehow missed a clue, and inconsolable that perhaps Meg never came to her in the first place; in effect, bringing their relationship into question. And with that comes guilt: how can Cody feel betrayed at a time like this? How can she feel like the victim?
I was Here is Gayle Forman at her absolute best. If I Stay set the bar unbelievably high; her latest lifts her up another rung on the ladder. As always, you’ll laugh and you’ll cry, and you won’t be able to stop turning the pages.