The Grief Girl Book Club: We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

Updated: Aug 26, 2020

*Disclaimer: Sadly, my original post had been deleted. This is something I had been working on for a while and I am really upset that it got deleted but that's just life! Here is everything I could roughly remember from what I wrote, although it isn't as long, detailed or great as before. Over the next few days, I will add to this post if I can remember anything else.

My review, thoughts and ideas on one of my new favourite books which address grief: "We Are Okay" by Nina LaCour.

About the book

This gorgeous book follows eighteen-year-old Marin, a girl from San Fransisco whose mother passed away when Marin was three (after a surfing accident). Marin flees to New York without talking to anyone or retrieving any of her possessions from their house, after the death of her grandfather whom she lived with for fifteen years. Mabel, Marin's best friend and former girlfriend is coming to visit after months of radio silence from Marin. Now, Marin has no choice but to confront her grief as well as her best friend.

We Are Okay is a young adult novel by Nina LaCour which was published in February 2019. It won the Michael L. Printz Award as the best book for young adults and was selected for several prestigious honours, including Boston Globe Best Book of the Year, TODAY show Must-Read Book, Booklist Editors’ Choice selection, Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year, and New York Public Library Best Book of the Year.

My review

Going into this book, I knew that it was going to be a short read- which was perfect for this book. First of all, I must say that this book isn't plot-heavy whatsoever. Despite its character-driven nature, it isn't tedious to say the least. I would strongly recommend this read to those who have lost someone and is dealing with grief, as it might seem too slow, boring and simply uninteresting for those that have not experienced a loss or are looking for an exciting read and plot. Undoubtedly, this book is peaceful and serene and deals with heavy emotions, predominantly grief and loneliness.

What I love most about this book is its realistic depiction of loneliness and a profound sense of grief. LaCour masterfully and stylistically crafts the book with a narrative which shifts back and forth between the present, set in wintry, snowy, empty and isolated New York, and the past (before her grandfather's death), in sunny, warm and love-filled San Francisco. The stillness of New York acts as a stark contrast to the vibrancy and vivacity of San Francisco.

The absence of a linear narrative creates a jagged and complicated perspective which I believe reflects Marin's complicated grief as well as her trying to understand all that had happened and her reflecting on the events leading up to the death of her grandfather, or 'Gramps' as we know him. In addition to this, the two locations in the book amplify and emphasise Marin's loneliness and grief. The empty dorm; the absence of other college freshmen during Christmas, a time associated with the warmth of family and pretty lights; the snowy atmosphere and numbing cold all are woven in beautifully to reflect her loneliness. Also, the symbolism of light is indicative of love and warmth within the novel: sunny San Francisco links back to a time when Marin's life was full of happiness and love although ironically, the light fails to reveal her grandfather's secrets and her 'true' life at the time. Light is present as Marin gets closer to people, or whenever someone appears amidst her loneliness. The motif of light and darkness paints a beautiful and poetic picture throughout and is seen again at the end through hundreds of Christmas lights, signifying the end of Marin's darkness and the beginning of a new life, love and family.

Another persistent motif present throughout is the motif of ghosts. I am sure that any 'Jane Eyre' fan or fan of 'The Turn of the Screw' would appreciate the references woven into the novel. A moment that stood out to me was Marin in the motel, washing her hands. She could hear the singing of her grandfather despite his absence.

“We can search for the truth, we can convince ourselves of whatever we want to believe, but we’ll never actually know.”

After her loss, Marin is left to face many unanswered questions, but she must learn to make peace with not knowing, especially when the answers could only come from the dead- which I feel many could relate to. I believe that ghosts also symbolise Marin's unresolved issues, meddling thoughts and inner turmoil. She is left to face inner ghosts after the revelation of her grandfather's 'skeletons in the closet'.

LaCour portrays grief, relationships and loneliness in a realistic, genuine and beautiful way.

I would strongly recommend this emotional rollercoaster to anyone dealing with a loss or grief. In layman's terms, this is a beautiful and poignant story about a young girl dealing with grief and loneliness.

Some of my favourite quotes

"He says lakes and forests reside in our minds. Close your eyes, he says, and go there."

"But it turns out that even the fiercest denial can't stop time."

"It's a dark place, not knowing. It's difficult to surrender to. But I guess it's where we all live most of the time. I guess it's where we all live, so maybe it doesn't have to be so lonely. Maybe I can settle into it, cosy up to it, make a home inside uncertainty."

"These are all things that change a person. If we endure them and we aren't changed, then something is wrong."

For after you read the book / for those of you who have read this book


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