Book Review: ‘You Were Here’ by Cori McCarthy

April 3, 2016     Holly     Reviews

Book Review: ‘You Were Here’ by Cori McCarthyYou Were Here by Cori McCarthy
Published by Sourcebooks Fire on March 1, 2016
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary
Pages: 400
Format: ARC, Kindle Edition
Source: Review Copy
5 Stars

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 disfunction, 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.

I can honestly say that You Were Here by Cori McCarthy was absolutely nothing like I expected, and yet after finishing it, I can’t imagine this novel being anything other than what it is – a heartbreaking, yet uplifting, tale about loss, tragedy, and finding light in the darkest of places.

I have to start off this review by stating that my excitement for this novel went IMMEDIATELY through the roof as soon as I read the first section title, “The Ridges.” That’s the name of the insane asylum that Jaycee and her classmates try to break into on the anniversary of her brother’s death. The Ridges, a very real place, also happens to be owned by Ohio University, the alma mater that McCarthy and I share. I KNOW ATHENS LIKE THE BACK OF MY HAND, OKAY?! The fact that You Were Here spends a majority of its time in my second home gives this novel so many brownie points.

And I like that McCarthy kept the essence of The Ridges, and its spooky nature, so real and true to the place that I found hauntingly beautiful during my time there. I could picture every towering window and unmarked grave that resides on the hill, as well as the infamous TB Ward that has since been torn down. McCarthy uses real history to make You Were Here come to life.

But what’s nice about this novel is that you don’t have to know The Ridges, or Geauga Lake, or any of the other abandoned places that Jaycee and the others visit throughout the novel. Her descriptions and details are so vivid that you just need to let yourself build the world around you that McCarthy is presenting. It shows her true talent as a writer and storyteller, and won’t let you put the novel down.

But as wonderful as the places are, You Were Here is definitely a novel more about its characters than its setting. We have five different POVs, and while on three and told through traditional storytelling for a novel (more on that in a minute), they are all incredibly different and complex in ways that will sink claws into your heart and make you care about each and every one. Jaycee, by far, changes the most through the novel, revealing layers of hurt and anxiety over her brother’s death that I could never have even imagined. But Natalie, a seemingly know-it-all, obsessive Type-A, has such dark and dangerous secrets that she was actually my favorite character. I like the determination she shows as McCarthy’s novel progresses further and further. Zach is also a surprising character, and one who originally looks like he’ll be the simplest character of the novel, but turns out to be the most complex of them all.

The two non-traditional POVs come from Mik, a selective mute, and Bishop, an artist. McCarthy chose to tell their sides of the story in You Were Here through visuals rather than words. Mik’s chapters are comics, often showing a great deal of action in a very small amount of space. Bishop’s chapters are single page representations of the art pieces he leaves behind in each of the abandoned locations that group visits. I actually really looked forward to these sections because they gave such amazing insight into each character’s head, with very few words being necessary.

Honestly, I was afraid as this novel went on that the ending was going to leave me seriously disappointed. I wasn’t sure how McCarthy could wrap everything up and have it all make sense and not feel rushed or incomplete. But I was so surprised when I felt You Were Here ended just as it should be. Not cleanly or with a necessarily “happy” ending, but rather with a feeling that, despite tragedy, things might just get better, somehow.


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