Thursday, June 13, 2019

Book Review: "We Are Okay" by Nina LaCour

"I wonder if there's a secret current that connects people who have lost something. Not in the way that everyone loses something, but in the way that undoes your life, undoes your self, so that when you look at your face it isn't yours anymore."

Marin (pronounced like the county in California) was once surrounded by people who loved her. She was raised by her grandfather since her mother's death when she was young, and Marin and her best friend, Mabel, were inseparable. She even was close to Mabel's parents, who treated her a bit like she was their own daughter.

But Marin fled her California home in the wake of a discovery and a tragedy, and now she is poised to spend Christmas by herself in her dorm room in chilly New York. Although her roommate has helped Marin navigate the many awkward moments and uncertainties of freshman year in college, she still considers herself to be a loner, unworthy of the attention people are paying her and unsure of how to interact with people.

What Marin is most apprehensive about during the holidays is facing Mabel, who is coming to visit from California for three days. The two haven't spoken since Mabel left for college, just before the tragedy that sent Marin running. Mabel doesn't understand what happened to her friend, and why she hasn't responded to almost all of her texts, calls, and emails. And no one understands why Marin left her old life behind.

Marin isn't sure she's ready to share the truth with anyone, let alone Mabel. If she does, she also will have to confront her feelings, which have mostly remained hidden all this time, and she may have to accept how much things have changed. She's also afraid to let her guard down and leave her heart open, for fear that once again she might be left with nothing.

What happened back in California that made Marin run and not look back? Why is she willing to be alone rather than share her pain, her fears, her grief with those who love her? Why would she rather be alone than try to make friends and move on with her life?

Nina LaCour's We Are Okay is nearly 250 pages long, but it packs a potent, emotional punch. This is a thought-provoking, tremendously poignant book that so deftly explored how grief and betrayal can truly destroy a person, and how when we need rescuing the most we're unwilling to let anyone help. At the same time, the book painted a fascinating picture about friendship, and how it can bring both joy and pain.

I loved the book that LaCour wrote with David Levithan, You Know Me Well, and this book cemented my admiration of the way she writes. I was a little confused by some elements of the plot and it took a while for Marin to reveal—to Mabel and to the reader—the reasons behind her actions. (I'll admit I still was unclear for longer than I should have been!) But those issues notwithstanding, this book left me a teary-eyed mess when I read it in one sitting on a flight.

Books about friendships and how they shape us—for better or worse—always appeal to me, and We Are Okay is an excellent addition to that oeuvre. Pick it up for the emotion; stay for LaCour's sensational storytelling.

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