- my rating: 4 stars
- published by:University of Queensland Press
- genres: contemporary, lgbtq+, wlw fiction, young adult
- content warnings: strong themes around grief, sex scenes, drowning, death of a parent and parental figure, depiction of a mental illness.
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.
I’ve been meaning to read Nina LaCour for so long. Although I have read You Know Me Well, which she cowrote with David Levithan – I have never read one of her individual works. I am so glad I have finally changed that by picking up and reading We Are Okay, it is a tiny book, but it seemed like every single word hit me emotionally and I am in love with LaCours stunning writing – this really solidified for me how much I need to read more LaCour.
❝ The sky is the darkest blue, each star clear and bright. My palms are warm on my legs. There are many ways of being alone. Thats something I know to be true. I breathe in (stars and sky). I breathe out (snow and trees). ❞
Set in an isolated dorm room during a snow storm. We follow Marin, who has run away from her old life to university, and is now having her first visit from her old best friend and also ex-girlfriend, Mabel. As Marin and Mabel spend time together, we begin to uncover the secrets of their past, and the things that drove grief stricken Marin to isolate herself at university following the death of her grandfather. Marin is a lesbian, and Mabel is bisexual.
We Are Okay is a beautiful, emotionally charged book. The first thing I noticed about it was its beautiful writing, and the melancholic tone LaCour weaves throughout the story. I really enjoy heavy contemporaries, and I think this nailed it. It was sad, and full of intense emotion, but didn’t go over to the top until it felt dramatic or cliche. I also enjoyed that the ending was ultimately hopeful, and Marin’s growth, leading to her revelation that she will be okay, was a beautiful counterweight to the sadness that permeated the majority of this book.
This was also a strong exploration is grief and childhood nostalgia, and how it feels to drift from loved ones over time. These themes really hit close to home for me, and I think added a lot to how emotionally involved I felt with this book. The exploration of friendship was so beautiful – I loved how LaCour managed to capture the tension and awkwardness of knowing someone extremely well, and yet feeling as if they are a stranger at the same time. The complex family dynamics, and examination of how grief alters people and changes lives in such a fundamental, complicated way was also well done here. Even though it is such a small book – it managed to portray its themes in a way that was meaningful and impactful.
Finally, a quick note on the representation. As I mentioned, this book explicitly outlines that Mabel and Marin were dating and have now broken up. I think the rep was really beautiful here, and I wouldn’t have expected less from LaCour. Even though the girls sexualities themselves are not a heavy focus, I think the representation of their relationship was really beautiful and pure. It also felt very authentic, and LaCour blended the friendship and romantic elements of their friendship beautifully. The sex scenes were nicely written (and not hugely graphic). I really recommend this book for its rep, even though I wouldn’t say its the major theme of the story.
❝ something inside me is cracking open, the light coming through so bright it hurts, and the rest of me is still here, wounded, even though i know it’s all for the best. ❞
My few issues with this book – and why it is a four star and not a five, is that I didn’t LOVE the mystery elements. For me the mystery surrounding Marin’s grnadfather was a little contrived, and felt outlandish compared to the rest of the story, which was heavily rooted in emotional realism. Although I understood the purpose of the mystery, I felt the reveal was a little obvious and overall didn’t add much to the story. I also found the ending a little abrupt, and could have done with maybe just another twenty pages to really wrap up Marin’s character development and state of mind at the end of the book.
We Are Okay is a beautiful little book that will make you want to cry at the end but in a good way. It gave me the same feeling that listening to Keane’s Somewhere Only We Know does – and if you know what I mean by that you KNOW what I mean by that. The book is a really melancholy, but ultimately hopeful, exploration of grief, childhood nostalgia, and how it feels to drift away from loved ones over time – and I highly recommend it!
A BIG THANKYOU to @AusYABloggers for sending me a review copy of this book as part of their blog tour to celebrate the Australian paperback release of We Are Okay. All the opinions here are my own
until next time!