Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

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Publication: February 14th 2017
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
Pages:  234 pages
Source: Bookmobile
Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, Contemporary, LGBTQ
My Rating: ⛤⛤⛤⛤

“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” (LaCour 68).

We Are Okay is, simply put, a beautiful and honest story about grief, growing up, and trying to figure out who you are when tragedy strikes.

The novel follows Marin who left everything and everyone from her life in San Francisco behind and moved to New York to school. She hasn’t talked to anyone since, but now four months later and just before Christmas, her best friend Mabel is coming down to visit, and Marin will have to tell her best friends what happened in those months before the tragedy happened and must confront her own feelings of grief, guilt, and loneliness that have become her companions.

Not a lot happens in this book. We follow Marin’s thoughts and feelings as the book filters between her current life in New York, now alone in her dorm during Christmas break, and her past in San Francisco with her Gramps and best friend Mabel. Marin’s present chapters focus on the solitary life she lives after leaving everything and everyone behind in San Francisco, made even lonelier now that it’s Christmas break and she’s the only one living in the university dorms during the holidays. The book takes us inside Marin’s head, where we can see her deciding what to do everyday before Mabel arrives. She makes her Ramen, washes her dishes, debates whether or not she should lie in bed the entire break since no one would know otherwise. It can get dull, but I think women need more dull books. Or maybe dull isn’t the right word, but ordinary. Holden Caufield can wander around New York doing nothing but complain about his life and his story is a Classic, why can’t Marin’s be the same while she makes Ramen, washes her dishes, waters her plant, and lives her daily life?

The past chapters focus on Marin’s life with her Gramps, whom she loved dearly, but they each had their secrets. Gramps writes letters to a mysterious woman named Birdie who he loves dearly, while Marin and Mabel have started to realize that they’re friendship may be more than friendship as they explore these feelings for each other. These chapters were more interesting because it dealt with more of the mystery side of the story. Why did Marin leave San Francisco? Who’s Birdie? Why is their a rift between Mabel and Marin?

One of the main themes of the novel is grief, the different ways people grieve, and some of the unhealthy things that can occur with grief, that can occur when you cut yourself off from people, when you seclude yourself, when you choose grief and loneliness over people. One of my favourite lines of the book came when Marin said she was afraid to do certain things because she wasn’t sure if they would trigger her or not:

“I’m just afraid that one day something’s going to catch me by surprise. Stale coffee. Squares of American cheese. Hard tomatoes, so unripe they’re white in the center. The most innocent things can call back the most terrible” (LaCour 65).

I know about grief, and I related to Marin in many ways throughout the book. I know what it’s like to want to runaway, to disappear, to start fresh where no one knows your past, where no one can look at you with pity or sadness. I never left like Marin did, but I know the temptation.

It’s one of the reasons Marin was such a great protagonist to read. I loved reading about her vulnerability, her fear of confronting the past and Mabel, and her anger and betrayal over what happened in the past. She was a character who was hurting, and it was impossible not to feel that hurt when reading. I loved reading her learning how to heal, acknowledging that it was slow moving, that their wouldn’t be a happy ending right away but that didn’t mean their wouldn’t be someday.

We Are Okay is a fantastic new contemporary novel that deals with difficult feelings beautifully without romanticizing them. It’s heartbreaking, honest, and beautiful and will definitely leave a mark on many readers.

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