Monday, July 25, 2016

Book Review // We Were Never Here by Jennifer Gilmore

This review was originally posted to No BS Book Reviews.

We Were Never Here by Jennifer Gilmore

Published by HarperTeen
Genres: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Release Date: June 14, 2016
Pages: 320

My Rating: ★★★

Synopsis: In this exquisitely written, emotionally charged young adult debut, Jennifer Gilmore explores the bond that is formed between a hospitalized girl and the secretly troubled boy she falls in love with.

Did you know your entire life can change in an instant?

For sixteen-year-old Lizzie Stoller that moment is when she collapses, out of the blue. The next thing she knows she’s in a hospital with an illness she’s never heard of.

But that isn’t the only life-changing moment for Lizzie. The other is when Connor and his dog, Verlaine, walk into her hospital room. Lizzie has never connected with anyone the way she does with the handsome, teenage volunteer. However, the more time she spends with him, and the deeper in love she falls, the more she realizes that Connor has secrets and a deep pain of his own . . . and that while being with him has the power to make Lizzie forget about her illness, being with her might tear Connor apart.
// I received a finished copy of We Were Never Here from HarperTeen in exchange for an honest review. //

“Let’s pretend we’re not here… Let’s pretend we were never here.”

Coming off of a serious Grey’s Anatomy binge-watch session, I was more than excited to pick up a book with some medical drama and sappy romance. We Were Never Here didn’t exactly deliver in the romance department but the story was honest and emotional. (And, Lizzie could be kind of Cristina Yang-like at times.)

I definitely wasn’t expecting We Were Never Here to give me The Fault In Our Stars level feels. But, I was expecting something. I didn’t want Lizzie and Connor’s love to move mountains, but I wanted it to move me. Alas, there was nothing steamy or dreamy about this love story. There wasn’t any real chemistry between Connor and Lizzie. There was a lot of Lizzie pining for Connor, waiting for him to call and waiting for him to write. And there was a little of them spending time together doing cutesie things. But, even the moments that were supposed to be sweet and romantic for them came off as forced and awkward. Their love didn’t give me any feels. Hell, I’m not sure it gave them any feels.

“…Why is it always the girl waiting for the boy to tell her she’s beautiful? Connor is lovely everywhere. I imagine even his blood is sun-kissed and wind blown. And, it seems like he might need to know that, too.”

And, let’s talk a little more about Lizzie, shall we? It’s not often that I read a story where I dislike the protagonist. But, Lizzie was one of those rare cases. I wanted to connect with her character and, in the beginning, I kind of did. Lizzie loves Birdy (as do I) and she has a pet turtle (I have two!). So, I thought she would be likable enough. But, there were moments where I found her to be unreasonably mean and rude. I mean, it’s understandable that coming out of a major surgery and having to deal with a lifelong illness was a struggle for her, so she had a right to be pissed at the world. But, she was just unnecessarily cruel to her friends and people who were interested in her wellbeing. And, on top of her meanness, there’s the fact that she kind of bored me. I found myself wishing that this story was told from Connor or Stella B’s perspectives, and not just Lizzie’s. Many people are going to read this book and dislike Connor, but I found his character’s quiet suffering intriguing and I would have liked to learn more about him and see the story’s events through his eyes. And, the same could be said for Stella B. The secondary characters seemed more interesting and complicated than our main character, but we never really get their full stories, only glimpses through Lizzie’s eyes. And, coming from Lizzie’s perspective, they were flat. 

I liked the story’s meaning and it’s insights on visible and invisible illness, forcing readers to think about how physical and mental illness are perceived. Physical illness can be visible. Sometimes it can be fixed, the bad parts cut out. But, mental illness can be invisible and it can be impossible to just cut out the bad parts. I think the story thoroughly explores those ideas and presented an insightful perspective on illness.

“I think, when I look back, this is a story about two people who never thought they could be loved back. And this is the story of those two people loving each other back and back and back.”

Overall, We Were Never Here is a thought-provoking, bittersweet story about recovery and healing. It’s not a thrill ride. Nor is it the greatest love story ever told. But, it is very real and meaningful. I didn’t absolutely hate it, but I wasn’t completely in love with it either. However, I think that there will be others who thoroughly enjoy it and find that they picked it up just when they needed it the most.

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