Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Review: 'You Were Here' by Cori McCarthy, Sonia Liao

I'm very excited to start off this new month with such a different type of book than I usually read. When I first saw You Were Here I was intrigued and also unsure if the mix of different genres and mediums would work. In the end I'm very happy I gave McCarthy's book a try! Thanks to Sourcebooks Fire and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 01/03/2016
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire

Jaycee is about to accomplish what her older brother Jake couldn't: live past graduation.
Jaycee is dealing with her brother's death the only way she can- by re-creating Jake's daredevil stunts. The ones that got him killed. She's not crazy,okay? She just doesn't have a whole lot of respect for staying alive. 
Jaycee doesn't expect to have help on her insane quest to remember Jake. But she's joined by a group of unlikely friends- all with their own reasons for completing the dares and their own brand of dysfunction: the uptight, ex-best friend; the heartbroken poet; the slacker with Peter Pan syndrome; and...Mik. He doesn't talk, but somehow still challenges Jayce to do the unthinkable-reveal parts of herself that she buried with her brother. 
Cori McCarthy's gripping narrative defies expectation moving seamlessly from prose to graphic novel panes and word art poetry. From the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum to the skeletal remains of the world's largest amusement park, You Were Here takes you on an unforgettable journey of friendship, heartbreak, and inevitable change.
As the blurb above might betray, there's loads happening in this novel. On the one hand the blurb betrays almost too much, but then McCarthy unfolds the plot with much more intricacy and sensitivity than you may think. Although I have often been hesitant about Young Adult fiction there is one thing about it I could never have denied and that is that the genre's authors are unafraid to tackle a lot of difficult topics. Although many novels unfortunately don't do so entirely successfully, it is a good sign for a genre to not shy away from difficulty. In You Were Here McCarthy deals with one of the hardest things anyone ever has to deal with and that is the loss of a family member and the impact that has on more than just direct family members. Although the focus of the novel doesn't necessarily lie on Jake's death, it is at the centre of everything. As the novel rolls along McCarthy reveals more of the shock waves of this one event and although much of it is pretty straightforward there are some twists and turns along the way which will make the reader feel for her characters.

Something I very much liked about You Were Here was its focus on friendship. There is little which feels as crucial in a teenager's life and is equally supportive and destructive to their sense of self. As everyone deals with the continuous blow-out of Jake's death different tensions arise and make each of the characters assess their role in the lives of others and what they stand to gain. Most of the characters are brought quite close to the reader whereas some stay on the periphery. Although the portrayals of these characters doesn't necessarily go very deep, they are incisive enough that everyone should be able to get something out of it.

One of the main draws of You Were Here is its interesting set-up. Each of the five main characters, Jaycee, Natalie, Zack, Bishop and Mik, gets to narrate their part of the story and their thoughts about the others. Divided narratives can either work really well or cause a novel to feel disjuncted and become a mess. Thankfully it really works for You Were Here, with McCarthy giving her teenage characters a bit more of an insight into themselves and others than you often get. What's even better, however, is that the characters don't just express themselves through words. One character tells their part of the narrative through the graphic novel medium, whereas another character expresses his feelings through graffiti artwork. For some this might completely break the magic of the novel but personally it was fascinating to see McCarthy, in partnership with illustrator Sonia Liao, push the envelop of what one can do in a "book". Using different mediums, bringing artists together and creating something that's a little bit more is something I'll always support.

You Were Here perfectly falls into that grey area between Young Adult, New Adult and your average Coming of Age novel. All of its characters are between ending parts of their life and starting anew and this singular anxiety is immediately recognisable to anyone who has been to high school and had to then face the chasm that is "adult life". McCarthy plays very well with the different factors that influence a teenager at this age, whether it's through incredibly up-to-date popular culture references or the ever lasting presence of our parents in our lives. So even setting aside the specific issues this novel deals with and the relative ease with which it occasionally does so, McCarthy perfectly taps into what is needed of a book like this.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

I read McCarthy's You Were Here in a single sitting and it opened my eyes to the different ways in which literature can develop in the future. Although not perfect, it's a very enjoyable book. I'd recommend it to fans of YA and Contemporary fiction.

1 comment:

  1. I was just checking out book signings in the area, and Cori McCarthy is doing one close by in about a month. I might check it out now, thanks to your review. :) Thanks!