Review: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Friday, April 28, 2017

Date started: April 17, 2017
Date finished: April 17, 2017
Book 33/52 for 2017.

I don’t know how I ended up reading two books in a row that focused very heavily on grief, but I finished History is All You Left Me and started We Are Okay by Nina LaCour immediately afterward. Let be go ahead and say this upfront: in eyes, We Are Okay was without a doubt the better book. The books actually have a few things in common – both main characters are gay and start a relationship with their best friend, and the point of view switches from the present to the past, when their loved one was still alive. And said loved one died in the ocean. Hmm. That one didn’t occur to me right away. Lots of parallels here, but again, We Are Okay was way better.

But LaCour’s characters – Marin and Mabel, mainly, but there are a few smaller characters as well that I loved – are beautifully developed and not even a little bit annoying. We can talk more about that below. I loved so many things about this read, and I think if I were a little less stingy with my five star ratings and had shed a few tears over the big plot reveal, I would’ve upgraded We Are Okay to five stars.

Anywho, here’s the Goodreads synopsis…

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.

Warning: If you haven’t read We Are Okay, there will be spoilers beyond this point! Continue at your own risk. 

A+. Seriously. I like my fantasy YA to be fantastical and my contemporary YA to be simpler, straightforward, the way I would talk to another person my age, and LaCour delivered. (I realize how ridiculous that sounds. Stick with me.)

Shoutout to Marin for being delightfully angsty but not at all infuriating, as an angsty character should be. I loved how she battled with the relationship she’d started with Mabel before Gramps died and the friendship they’d always had, and how she often chose nothing, until Mabel showed up.

And I love Mabel for her patience and her heart and her concern for Marin. Her parents, too – I definitely almost cried when Mabel explained that her parents wanted her to be part of their family so much that they made their son’s old room into a room for her. And even more, I felt it tug at my heart when Mabel’s parents walked into her dorm, because they didn’t want Marin to be alone for Christmas.

Spoiler alert: Mabel and Marin hook up on the beach one night and start a relationship after years of being friends. After Gramps dies – or commits suicide, although that’s never conclusively said, I don’t think – Marin flees to New York, ignoring any communication from her best friend and leaving Mabel to assume that Marin has moved on and found someone else.

But this isn’t the kind of story where the two love birds were separated and then are brought back together – not really. If that does happen, if they are reunited romantically, we know that it will take some time. It feels very real, that Marin has to let herself back into her friendship, that they don’t rush back into love.

I was also blown away by the tale LaCour wove about Gramps and his grief and his mental illness and his struggle. I had no idea that was coming, that Birdie was really Marin’s mother, that Gramps had been writing to his dead daughter all that time, that he wasn't strong enough to share his daughter with Marin. It was beautifully horrible, and it came close to breaking me. Close – not quite. I didn’t cry. I have a high bar.

I don’t really think I hated anything about We Are Okay, but if I had to pick one thing I wasn’t a huge fan of, it would be the weird situation the girls are in when the power goes out and the groundskeeper has to come retrieve them so they don’t freeze. There’s really nothing wrong with this moment, but it felt all too convenient that he showed up and happened to have a gas stove and a fireplace, no need for electricity. It also just felt creepy, and I think it was an intentional move by LaCour… I just don’t know why.

Marin and Mabel’s story is very simple. There are no crazy plot devices – minus Marin’s grandpa’s reveal that he’s been writing to his daughter, not to a woman across the country who he’s in love with, for his entire life and hiding all of the memories he has of her from her daughter – and no love triangles and no wild twists and turns. For the most part, we exist inside Marin’s head, and as angsty and grief-stricken as her head is, it’s perfect.


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