Home       About Me       Review Archive

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Review: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney

Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Published: June 4, 2013
Pages: 272
Source: For Review from Hachette Book Group Canada
Rating: 4 Stars

Filled with humor, raw emotion, a strong voice, and a brilliant dog named Sandy Koufax, When You Were Here explores the two most powerful forces known to man-death and love. Daisy Whitney brings her characters to life with a deft touch and resonating authenticity.
Danny's mother lost her five-year battle with cancer three weeks before his graduation-the one day that she was hanging on to see.
Now Danny is left alone, with only his memories, his dog, and his heart-breaking ex-girlfriend for company. He doesn't know how to figure out what to do with her estate, what to say for his Valedictorian speech, let alone how to live or be happy anymore.
When he gets a letter from his mom's property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment, it shows a side of his mother he never knew. So, with no other sense of direction, Danny travels to Tokyo to connect with his mother's memory and make sense of her final months, which seemed filled with more joy than Danny ever knew. There, among the cherry blossoms, temples, and crowds, and with the help of an almost-but-definitely-not Harajuku girl, he begins to see how it may not have been ancient magic or mystical treatment that kept his mother going. Perhaps, the secret of how to live lies in how she died.

In short: When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney was a wonderfully moving read with a fantastic cast of dynamic characters.
When You Were Here is a novel about death, but it's also about moving forward after dealing with so much grief and reconnecting with life. Danny is three weeks away from graduation when his mother dies after a long battle with cancer. As he has already lost his father years previously and has broken up with the love of his life, he is left alone, despondent in his grief. With nothing left, Danny decides to take a trip to Tokyo where his mother spent much of her last few months to try to come to terms with his grief and the secrets his mother was keeping from him. When You Were Here is a novel that will strip you down with grief and then rebuild your spirit whole again in a beautifully effective way.

When You Were Here gave me an urge to see Tokyo in a BIG, BAD way. I've always wanted to visit Japan, but never before with quite the same fervour as this book made me feel. Tokyo's mix of flashy sites and more traditional Japanese culture was described so well and presented so vividly by author Daisy Whitney. The setting was like a character unto itself, which is my favourite kind of setting.

The characters were great and dynamic, as well. I've never personally had to deal with the death of a parent - thankfully - but I still found it easy to relate with Danny. It was so inspiring to see Danny regain his spirit after so much grief. I also love how a few of the characters remained something of an enigma for much of the novel, only to have their stories finally come together in a moment of true enlightenment at the end. Standout characters include Danny's dog, Sandy Koufax, - because dogs are THE BEST - and Danny's new Japanese BFF, Kana, - who, okay, was a bit of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (MPDG), but I still liked her a lot and I think she had a lot more depth than your standard MPDG.

The only thing that stops When You Were Here from being a 5 Star read for me is that I don't believe I felt the full emotional impact that I could have felt from the story. Don't get me wrong, it was definitely a lovely read, definitely a poignant story. But I wanted MORE. I wanted to feel more emotional investment with the characters and storyline. I wanted to be hit hard by THE FEELS. But this is a relatively small complaint because When You Were Here was still definitely a wonderful and moving story. This was my first Daisy Whitney read, but it won't be my last.

Other Reviews:
Good Books and Good Wine
i swim for oceans
The Perpetual Page-Turner

Author Links:


  1. Woohoo, I'm so happy to see that you enjoyed this one! It seems like Whitney was able to capture the Japan setting really well. So in a way, this book is set in a country other than the US? Because then I'M ALL IN. But other than that, I'm glad to hear that you were able to relate to Danny so well and how he really came to terms with his mother's death. I'm so excited to pick this one up now, despite the minor lack in emotional feels! Excellent review, Aylee. :)

    Jen at Books and Other Happy Ever Afters

  2. Woo! Aw, this sounds lovely! I think I have a feels deficit when it comes to contemporary novels, but I think I might enjoy this one. I really like the way you called the setting a character unto itself, because I totally agree. And also, I'm loving the way you've started making more funny outbursts lately, with 'Dogs are THE BEST' and something about that other book being your JAM xD Great review! :)

  3. While I'm sorry all the feels didn't quite punch you in the gut (that's always the best isn't it?), overall this sounds like a really fantastic read. I have it on my shelf and have been putting it off because I was worried it would be too much of a downer, but it doesn't seem like that's the case at all. Lovely review Aylee!

  4. I know what you mean Aylee. This was a wonderful book, but it's like there was a barrier that never totally fell away. I loved the elements of Japanese culture. I love Japan, but didn't spend much time in Tokyo so that was a fun new element for me.

  5. Characters are one of the most important aspects in contemporary novels, I think, so it's promising to see that Daisy Whitney did a great job with them. Too bad that the book didn't emotionally impact you more, though! I think I might be able to live with that, because When You Were Here sounds really good. Wonderful review, Aylee!

  6. I love it when a setting seems like a character - that means that the author did something right. And YAY for a dog being in the novel (dogs are totally the best)!

    Fabulous review, Aylee! I'm excited to get my hands on this book.

  7. It sounds emotional and I am scared to read this. I've never dealt with the death of a parent but just imagining that is so hard. I'm sorry to hear that you didn't get ALL THE FEELS, but it sounds like you definitely got enough to make you love this book. I think this is one I will save to check out when I'm ready for the emotions. (I'm a baby when reading so I can see there being a lot of tears for me haha) Great review!

  8. I have such a hard with books dealing with grief and the loss of a loved one. I have heard good things about this book and have it ordered from the library, but I don't know if I can actually do it. Great review!

  9. eep I AM REALLY EXCITED to read this book! I love the fact that Tokyo plays a huge part in it and it sounds great! wonderful review x

  10. The dynamic characters sound great, and I like books dealing well with grief and moving on.

  11. Hey! a MPDG with a little depth can be fun.
    And I'm glad this book was good!! I've been meaning to read this author for the longest time!

  12. It's great that you could relate to Danny despite the fact you haven't experienced the loss of a parent. The author did a good job in portraying him then. Nice review!

  13. I am SO excited to read this one, even if the girl is a bit of a MPDG. I've found that I tend to like books with MPDG even if they are terribly unrealistic. I'm glad the Tokyo setting is so well done! I have a feeling I'll want to go there as soon as I read this book as well. Awesome review Aylee! :D

    Julia @ That Hapa Chick

  14. I LOVE your review for When You Were Here, Aylee! This was truly a wonderful read. I an understand how you'd except this book to be more emotional than what it was, but whatever it was as it is, was amazing. I'm so happy you enjoyed this Contemporary since I know it isn't a genre you'd normally go far, so yay! Beautiful review, girl!

    Sarika @ The Readdicts

  15. Although this wasn't quite 5-star worthy, I'm really glad it worked for you! Japan is the one country I'd love to visit more than any other, so I already like the sound of this. Wonderful review, Aylee. :)

  16. I'm shocked at all the contemporary you've been throwing down lately. This one sounds sort of heavy. I kinda have a love/hate relationship with books where a recent death plays a major role in the plot line... I'm also not sure if I'd appreciate a travel book, though I know its good to push my reading boundaries. It probably would expand my knowledge on Tokyo. I'm undecided....

  17. Hmmm, I'm trying to recall if I remember seeing this cover before now and honestly, I'm not sure o.O Anyways, I know I'm not much of a contemporary reader anymore but I really think I might check this one out sometime! I love how you spoke that it does break you emotionally but it also builds you back up. I feel like many popular contemporary reads seem to focus more on simply shattering the reader, and my poor little heart can't take the abuse LOL ANd exploring Tokyo really has a strong appeal for me too, I wish more stories were set in Japan :D As usual, brilliant review Aylee, thanks for the insight & for bringing this book to my attention!

  18. I always do love when settings basically become their own characters. Definitely make books more interesting! And I'm glad that you ended up enjoying this book overall. I haven't read any Daisy Whitney myself, but I wonder if I may end up liking her Mockingbirds just a bit more. I'll have to look into it. Great review, Aylee!

  19. I've been reading kind of mixed reviews for this one but I'm still intrigued by the setting so I might give it a shot.

  20. This one sounds really good! Plus I love reading books set in faraway places (which always bites me with the travel bug). I'll keep my eye out for this one!

  21. I'm so glad to hear you loved this! I'm reading it right now (just met ms manic pixie dream girl Kana, actually :D), and so far it's really amazing. I agree, this doesn't have my feels all up in arms yet, but then I'm just barely halfway through it. I'm looking forward to seeing Tokyo more in the book and seeing what is going on with that doctor. Lovely review Aylee! :-)

  22. Look at your reading and enjoying a contemporary novel. I have been hearing SO many good things about this story and I want to check it out. I am glad you liked it. Danny sounds like a great character. I love how this was set in Japan.

    Thanks for the review.