BOOK: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Summary:

From the award-winning author of Hold Still comes an achingly beautiful novel about grief and the enduring power of friendship.

You go through life thinking there’s so much you need. . . Until you leave with only your phone, your wallet, and a picture of your mother.

Marin hasn’t spoken to anyone from her old life since the day she left everything behind. No one knows the truth about those final weeks. Not even her best friend Mabel. But even thousands of miles away from the California coast, at college in New York, Marin still feels the pull of the life and tragedy she’s tried to outrun. Now, months later, alone in an emptied dorm for winter break, Marin waits. Mabel is coming to visit and Marin will be forced to face everything that’s been left unsaid and finally confront the loneliness that has made a home in her heart.

An intimate whisper that packs an indelible punch, We Are Okay is Nina LaCour at her finest. This gorgeously crafted and achingly honest portrayal of grief will leave you urgent to reach across any distance to reconnect with the people you love.

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My thoughts:

This book is an absolute gem. I read it in one day and it completely broke my heart, then stitched it back together again.

The main character Marin is staying during the Christmas holidays in her New York college dorm by herself. Marin won’t be alone for all of the holiday period though, as her best friend Mabel is coming to see her for a couple of days. This will be the first time they have talked since Marin left their Californian hometown. She was raised in California by her only family – her grandfather – with whom she lived since her mother passed away. When he dies, she feels broken and like nothing will ever be the same again. She leaves her hometown with just her phone, her wallet and a picture of her mother and never looks back.

The book switches between the present day and flashbacks detailing the lead-up to Marin fleeing California. The themes touched on in Marin’s story are grief, identity, mental health, friendship and growing up. All of these emotions intertwined bubble up on the page and make us feel them as deeply as Marin does. While the narrative does unravel secrets, this book is less about twists or big reveals than it is about Marin’s feelings.

Marin is such a well-drawn, complex character going through an incredibly confusing and painful part of her life. She is grieving, upset and working so hard to keep herself together. I thought it was so fascinating to read about a character who is lost and adrift. Marin doesn’t have anything figured out and she is just taking the time to make sense of everything in her head. Her entire world and everything she believed in is turned upside down and she needs some time to make sense of her new reality. To get a grip on who she is, she leaves everything behind and tries to build herself back up from scratch.

Her relationship with Mabel before and after she leaves California shines on the page. They have incredible chemistry. I don’t want to say too much about them but I loved their relationship and how it developed after Marin’s departure. Their friendship is beautiful and it makes me tear up just thinking about it again. One of the tests of friendship is to be able to share and adapt to life-changing experiences, but Marin doesn’t know if this is possible with Mabel.

This book is exquisitely written. I could go and quote most of it but you might as well read it for yourself. I also feel the story could work well on stage. The setting of this Californian girl stranded in snowy New York in her empty dorm feels claustrophobic at times and utterly peaceful at others. We Are Okay would probably fall under the Quiet YA label which makes me love it even more. The present-day story line doesn’t have much action happening in it but the book is about Marin and her feelings and there is no need for intricate plot devices. The writing, the characters and the emotions are enough.

If you are looking for a beautifully-written and emotional read then this is for you. The portrayal of loss and grief on one side and love, family and friends on the other is just incredibly heart-warming.

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Other books by Nina LaCour:

I have reviewed Nina LaCour’s collaboration with David Levithan so do check out You Know Me Well if you haven’t read it yet.

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