A Top Book of 2016 YA Pick: You Were Here…

Bruce's PickI know, I know! It’s only February and already I’ve thrown out three Top Book of 2016 picks.  You should probably count yourself lucky that there is so much excellent reading material being brought to your attention by your friendly neighbourhood shelf-dwellers.

Today’s offering is a YA contemporary novel with an unusual format and some of the best, most authentic characterisation of teenagers on the brink of starting their adult lives that I have seen for a while.  We received a copy of You Were Here by Cori McCarthy from the publisher via Netgalley.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Grief turned Jaycee into a daredevil, but can she dare to deal with her past?

On the anniversary of her daredevil brother’s death, Jaycee attempts to break into Jake’s favorite hideout—the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum. Joined by four classmates, each with their own brand of dysfunction, Jaycee discovers a map detailing her brother’s exploration and the unfinished dares he left behind.

As a tribute to Jake, Jaycee vows to complete the dares, no matter how terrifying or dangerous. What she doesn’t bargain on is her eccentric band of friends who challenge her to do the unthinkable: reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.

you were here

So here are some of the features of the book that I thoroughly appreciated:

  • Abandoned sanatoriums, shopping centres, train tunnels and fun parks
  • Alternating points of view between the main five characters – Jaycee, Natalie, Zach, Mik and Bishop
  • GRAPHIC NOVEL formatting within the novel itself – woo!
  • The aforementioned excellent characterisation of young people dealing with grief, identity, growth and changing friendships
I was surprised at how engaged I became with this story to be honest with you.  I requested it for the themes of grief and identity that are touched on in the blurb, but I was heartily impressed with the way that the author deftly handles five main characters in alternating perspectives, each with different – though intersecting – flaws and secrets.  While each of the characters could be defined as typical characters one might find in a YA contemporary – the wild child, the man-child, the brooding artistic type, the overachiever and the strong, silent type – the depth with which the author explores each of their stories is beyond the ordinary for books pitched at this age group.  Similarly, while some of the themes in the book have been done to death in contemporary YA, McCarthy’s treatment of the characters’ growth seems extremely authentic, so I never had the feeling that I was reading characters that could easily be swapped into any old YA story.
I loved the inclusion of urban exploring – seeking out and visiting abandoned public buildings or spaces – and the way in which it neatly tied in with the reader’s slowly unfolding picture of who Jake might have been, as a brother and friend.  The graphic novel elements,used to tell Mik’s part of the story, were a wonderful, novel inclusion, but I really wanted to see more of them throughout.  Similarly, the single-page artworks attributed to Bishop seemed far too thin on the ground (or the wall, as the case may be), although I understand that, apart from showcasing Bishop’s state of mind at various points in the story, it would have been difficult to include more.
If you’re looking for a deeply absorbing, authentic examination of a group of friends trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be, before launching themselves into the big, wide world, then I recommend this book to you.  If you’re looking for a riveting and sometimes disturbing examination of grief and the impact of a young person’s death on a community and family, I recommend this book to you.
And if you’re just looking for a bloody good contemporary YA read with action, adventure, romance, break-ups, pain, friendship, humiliation, growth, graffiti, secrets, graphic novel interludes and a whole swathe of abandoned buildings to explore, then you should just go out and acquire You Were Here by Cori McCarthy.  Then let me know what you think.
Until next time,
Bruce
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