Saturday, March 19, 2016

"You Were Here" by Cori McCarthy

You Were Here
by Cori McCarthy

You Were Here is the latest release by Cori McCarthy. I was lucky enough to be one of the first 500 people to receive a review copy from NetGalley, a great site for readers to find new authors and for authors to find new readers. You can read my review and an excerpt from the book below.

Jaycee is about to accomplish what her older brother Jake couldn’t: live past graduation.
Jaycee is dealing with her brother’s death the only way she can – by re-creating Jake’s daredevil stunts. The ones that got him killed. She’s not crazy, okay? She just doesn’t have a whole lot of respect for staying alive.
Jaycee doesn’t expect to have help on her insane quest to remember Jake. But she’s joined by a group of unlikely friends – all with their own reasons for completing the dares and their own brand of dysfunction: the uptight, ex-best friend, the heartbroken poet, the slacker with Peter Pan syndrome, and … Mik. He doesn’t talk, but somehow still challenges Jaycee to do the unthinkable - reveal the parts of herself that she buried with her brother.
Cori McCarthy delivers an emotionally taut page-turner from multiple points of view – combined with stunning illustrations. Her gripping narrative defies expectation, moving seamlessly from prose to graphic novel panels and word art poetry, perfect for fans of E. Lockhart, Jennifer Niven, and Jandy Nelson. From the petrifying ruins of an insane asylum to the skeletal remains of the world’s largest amusement park, You Were Here takes you on an unforgettable journey of friendship, heartbreak and inevitable change.

Book Video

Chapter 1
I had been driving all afternoon, trying to get lost.
The road blurred. My foot was a stone on the gas pedal, and I took the turn too fast. Tires growled and spit gravel, almost sending my car sideways through the Saturday evening traffic.
I came to a slamming stop in the playground parking lot and pressed my head to the steering wheel, cursing. The pause was short-lived. I tightened my ponytail and got out.
Trudging toward the swing set, my face burned and my breath stung in my chest. That's what regret does well and grief does better: rips out your energy and leaves you feeling each and every heartbeat. Plus, well, I'd failed once again. Getting lost in my hometown was turning out to be as easy as disapparating - something I'd once wasted an entire lightning bolt - foreheaded summer attempting.
I sat hard on the swing. My endeavors to get lost were getting extreme. Just last week, I'd night-trekked into the woods where the cross-country team practices and chugged three inches of rum. I'd left the path behind, only to run into my equidrunk classmates, taking their idiotic dares to make out with a tree and underwear-roll through a patch of poison ivy. I emerged hours later on the road behind the middle school, the same spot where years earlier I used to pump my bike into dirt-sneezing speed, trying to spin out. In short, my earliest attempts at getting lost.
I itched the length of my arm. The poison ivy welts were starting to fade, even though a few hours earlier, my mom complained about how blotchy I would look in all my graduation pictures. "Photoshop," I had assured her following the ceremony. "I promise you won't have to remember me as rashy every time you marvel at my monumentous achievement in surviving standard education."
Surviving was the wrong word. My mom started to weep, and I ended up taking a three-hour drive on Easy Death Road. Which is exit 13 off Guilt Highway if you're curious. And then after all that, I surrendered to a seizure of loneliness and came here to the oddly placed Richland Avenue Park.
I scuffed my Chucks on the stubbly turf, drawn to the spot beneath the swing set where Jake died. Of course, it wasn't rubber back then. It had been good, old-fashioned, unforgiving blacktop. My mind hummed, and something inside me screamed Run! as if my worst memories were zombies, and if I were quick enough, I could outstrip them. But I stayed where I was, kicking into gear on the swing instead.
The sunset was taking forever to get over itself, and I pumped my legs like a ten-year-old. I could have been at any number of graduation parties, sneaking beer into Sprite cans and cheersing the end of high school. But no, I was here. Killing time. Waiting for dark, when I'd break into The Ridges and meet up with Mikivikious for our bizarro anniversary. It had been five years. That's something special, right? What's the traditional present for five years? Silverware? A couch? Flat screen?
The sun's blaring rays made me squeeze my eyes until the whole universe went orange-red. Killing time. What an expression. How does one kill time? Anesthesia? Time travel? Lobotomy?
The last one made me snicker as I stared up at The Ridges, the decrepit Victorian mansion on top of the hill. Until recently, it had been known as the Athens Insane Asylum, but the state had demanded a rebrand when they shut it down, as if a new name could erase a hundred years of inhumane abuse, death, and yes, copious amounts of lobotomies. I should know; I'd tried it once or twice. Not a lobotomy-changing my own name. Anything to escape being the infamous girl who'd had a front-row seat in watching her big brother snap his neck.
I would rather be known for frenching a tree.
My feelings flared as I imagined my mom on her way back to her own asylum, Stanwood Behavioral Hospital. She was most likely weeping for Xanax, a wreck because I wrecked her with my sarcasm. And my father was probably holding her hand and saying nice things, because that's how he dealt with Jake. My dad was a grade A deflector. Everything he said was ripe with the exact same sentiment: So we don't have a son anymore, but hey, look at our daughter! To be honest, I preferred my mother's tears.
I turned to the half-shadowed redbrick towers of The Ridges peeking over the tree line and wondered where I'd left off on my easier thoughts. Oh yeah: lobotomies. The guy who performed them, nicknamed Dr. Lobotomy, traveled from asylum to asylum in the sixties, living out of his lobotomobile - he seriously called it that - while banging out twenty procedures a day. Apparently it only takes a few minutes to destroy someone's frontal lobe. True story. Google it.
I kicked harder, faster, higher on the swing, and then turned into a board, locking my elbows and knees. I tracked the blue sky with each swinging pass, waiting for gravity to get predictable. To bring me back to earth.
When it finally did, I was no longer alone. A kid glared from a few feet away with that dog snarl only middle schoolers possess. Behind him, his buddies hung from the monkey bars, faux whispering. Clearly he'd been sent over. Chosen to poke fun at Jaycee Strangelove.
Yes, that's my name. No, you may not make fun of it.
I stared him down. "You're too old to be on the playground. Take off before you freak out the little kids," I said even though I was the only other person there.
The boy's hair was unevenly shaved on the sides, and he'd Sharpied rap lyrics up his ropey arms. "I dare you."
I exhaled for roughly ten years. "Dare me to do what, Eminem?"
He pointed to the top of the swing set, smirking.
"I can do the backflip," he bragged. "So can two of my friends."
I took the bait even though I knew better than to talk about the accident. "Jake could do it too, you snotwad. The flip that killed him was probably his thirtieth."
My thoughts went graphic. I couldn't stop imagining my big brother standing atop the swing set. He wore his cap and gown from graduation and was also half-drunk-a detail the coroner threw in later. Jake's classmates were cheering him on in a way that made me think he was the coolest human on the planet. I mean, I had only finished seventh grade, so that seemed entirely possible.
I remembered in slo-mo how he crouched and sprang backward. The flip was so fast that it had turned into one and a half flips, and then...
"Is it true that his head snapped off?" the Sharpie kid asked.
I glared.
"Well? Do the backflip," he said. "I dare you."
I got up and walked away.
"But you're supposed to do any dare," he yelled. "That's what everyone says."
"You've got the wrong Strangelove," I called back. "Jake was the one who did every dare." I only do the ones that aren't suicidal, I added in my thoughts. Mostly. I turned to walk backward and spoke my next words loud enough for him and his little thug friends. "Jake's head didn't snap off. His neck bent ninety degrees." I held my arm up, crooked. "Like an elbow."
Maybe that would keep them from mimicking the flip that broke Jake. But probably not. More likely, it'd make them even more interested. Middle schoolers make no freakin' sense.
I pretended like I was leaving, but I didn't go anywhere. Instead, I hooked around the small wooded area and back to the playground. To the swing set. Lil Eminem and his posse had bugged off, and I felt myself edging too close to the supermassive black hole inside that Jake had left behind.
Five years ago. Five. Five.
I eyed the playground like I might catch a glimpse of his ghost. He would probably be pissed to know that I imagined his spirit in that ridiculous cap and gown. Also barefoot, but then again, he never wore shoes.
I flipped off my bashed-up Converses and climbed the support beam of the swing set without another thought. The cool metal gripped my palms, and I looped my legs around the top bar and hauled myself into a sitting position. Easier than it looks. I wriggled my butt down the pole.
The sunset was lapsing into a cherry-stained twilight. A breeze came in from somewhere and set itself against my radical heartbeat. A few dozen people had watched Jake flip; none of them had tried to stop him, least of all me. And now I was alone. No one was going to stop me either. I'm lost without you, Jake, I thought, followed by, What sentimental crap.
"I'm always right here," I muttered. "How lost is that?"
Crazy and cursing, I stood up.

Praise for the Book
"You Were Here is wrenchingly beautiful in its honest and achingly accurate portrayal of grief and how it breaks us - and the way unconditional friendship puts us back together." ~ Jo Knowles, award-winning author of See You At Harry’s and Read Between the Lines
"The urban explorers of You Were Here dive deep into the forgotten man-made spaces all around them - and their own feelings of loss, love, and fear. McCarthy deftly intertwines the characters' stories, filling them with authentic pain and heartache as well as soaring moments of grace and humor. I dare you to read it!" ~ Maggie Lehrman, author of The Cost of All Things
"A beautiful coming-of-age story, this book will leave readers thinking about it long after they close it." ~ VOYA Magazine, a VOYA Best Book
"The mix of forms as well as the insights each character gleans through their urban explorations render this book both readable and teachable on multiple levels." ~ Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, starred review
"Readers who appreciate stories of searching for personal truths will be happy to join this meaningful quest for identity and independence." ~ Booklist
"The topic of urban exploration and the inclusion of graphic novel style chapters will appeal to teens." ~ School Library Journal

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
On the night of her high school graduation, Jaycee Stranglove reminisces about the death of her daredevil older brother Jake five years earlier. When she finds his diary and a map of the urban ruins he explored, she decides to follow in his footsteps. She is accompanied by Natalie, who is trying to rekindle their friendship; Natalie's loser boyfriend, Zach; the heart-broken artist, Bishop; and Jake's best friend Mik, a selective mute. We follow their adventures exploring The Ridges, an abandoned insane asylum on the edge of town; Moonville Tunnel, an ancient railway tunnel; The Gates of Hell, a disused open drainage pipe; Randall Park Mall, an abandoned shopping center; and Geauga Lake, a derelict amusement park. All Jaycee wants to do is feel connected to her dead brother. But when will she relinquish the past and start living?
You Were Here explores what happens in the two months a group of disparate friends have left before they leave for college. Relationships are made and destroyed, realities are confronted, and we are given a front-row view of the pain of growing up. The novel is told in alternating chapters by five characters who have five distinct voices: Jaycee's sardonic prose perfectly captures her teenage angst; Natalie portrays the high-achieving daughter always striving for perfection; Zach is the quintessential party-boy who's not ready to grow up; Bishop's contributions are in the form of drawings, graffiti, and street art; while Mik tells his story in graphic novel format. The wonderful illustrations by Sonia Liao add a whole new dimension to the story.
I really wanted to love this book. I was disappointed when I didn't feel much of an emotional connection to any of the characters at the beginning. However, as I got to know them, they became more and more real. And by the end ... yes, you guessed it ... I loved this book.
Warnings: coarse language, sexual references, alcohol abuse.

All of the urbex locations in You Were Here are real. Some are even open to the public. Check out the author's personal recollections and research on these sites here.

You can also take a look at this amazing drone footage of Geauga Lake Amusement Park, the location of the climactic scenes in You Were Here. If you've already read the book, did you find the spot where two of the characters had their first kiss?

About the Author
Cori McCarthy started writing when she was thirteen. She earned a BA in Creative Writing from Ohio University, focusing in memoir writing and poetry. After graduation she completed UCLA’s Professional Program in Screenwriting and served as an AmeriCorps volunteer in Appalachian Ohio. In 2011, she earned an MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
In geographical history, Cori was born on Guam, grew up in New England and the Midwest, studied abroad in Ireland, and now lives in Michigan. She’s traveled everywhere from Scotland to St. Petersburg, Albania to Montenegro. Like her hero Walt Whitman, her favorite city on the planet is Washington, D.C., and her favorite off-planet city is Entra.
Cori is the author of several YA books: The Color of Rain, Breaking Sky, and You Were Here. Cori’s (unfinished) novel in verse, Name Me America, won the Middle Grade category for the 2014 Katherine Paterson Prize. Cori is also the co-founder of Rainbow Boxes, a charitable initiative aiming to bring LGBTQIA fiction to community libraries and GSAs across America.