Two things, before I dive into the meat of this review. One, this is the first YA Contemporary book that I've read in about a year so I'm coming into this with fresh eyes. It's entirely possible that has also biased me to love this book, so let's get that out of the way before anything else. Two, although I was given a copy of this to review back in 2016, it has taken me this long to get to it. I actually borrowed it from the library to read, and I'm not sorry in the least. Now that you know where I'm coming from with this review, let's get started.
I love Jaycee, but I also hate Jaycee. I'll start right there, because that's the kind of book that You Were Here really is. I love Jaycee because she's a broken protagonist who is falling into a pit of grief and can't figure out how to claw her way out. She's raw, brutally honest, and walled off into her own safe place. I love her because she's real. On the flip side, that's also why I hate Jaycee. She reminds me of how easy it is to fall into that pit, how easy it is to push everyone away and become a flicker of your former self, and how hard it really is to let that all go an come back to the light. It was Jaycee, and her profound loss, that really made this book hit home for me. Cori McCarthy perfectly crafted a human being with real flaws, and I soaked that in and reveled in it.
In fact, every character in this book has their own set of flaws and short comings. That's what made me feel so strongly for them. McCarthy even manages to craft a character with social anxiety, who is selectively mute, and still bring him to life on the pages. His chapters, told in graphic novel format, were actually some of my favorites. I loved being pulled in to his mind, and seeing things from his point of view. It's not easy to have a book narrated by multiple characters that isn't confusing at times. McCarthy hits that out of the park though. Every character is so rich, and well formed, that it's not hard at all to skip from the mind of Zach, to Jaycee and back again. It's normal, and wonderful.
What really impressed me, more than anything, was how easy to read this book was. It deals with some tough subjects, unabashedly so, but it does it in a way that makes you love the characters and want to be wrapped up in their lives. I found a part of myself in every one of them, and it made this a really personal and amazing read for me. Highly recommended! Just be prepared to get a bit teary eyed.