Books, Reviews, YA Fiction

We Are Okay, by Nina LaCour | a quiet and careful read on love and loss

28243032You 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 found out about We Are Okay a bit later than most, but it quickly became one my most anticipated releases of the first half of this year. I love emotional books, which many people don’t understand, but books that depress me and urge me to think about myself and the world are my favorites. I expected that from We Are Okay, yet it managed to deliver an emotional capacity in a much quieter and softer way. I wouldn’t say it was incredibly effective to me, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

We Are Okay follows Marin, a girl who had moved to New York City from her home in California for college on an impulse after an unspoken tragedy. She hasn’t looked back since, until her past best friend Mabel says she is dropping by. Mabel has the motive to bring Marin home and face everything she has left behind, but Marin doesn’t know if she is ready for breaking out of the isolation she has been in for the past year. However, as she begins to assess the people she had loved and her relationship with Mabel, Marin realizes she must confront her scarred past before she loses herself forever to the sadness.

The quiet and cautious atmosphere created: I am very conflicted with how LaCour decided to structure this book, because the atmosphere the writing created was so depressing and miserable, it was hard to focus, yet it was that aspect that made me like it as well. Marin lives in her NYC dorm alone during Christmas break, as everyone else has traveled, and this along with the empty yet sorrowful writing painted such a lonely, melancholy picture. It was difficult not to fall into the same despair that Marin carried, and I was impressed with the way LaCour managed to do this easily. Unfortunately, the writing might scare some readers away because it tends to be a bit melodramatic at times without the proper context to influence it. Marin’s story is kept hidden from us for most of the book, and while the flashbacks slowly ease us into the mystery of her escape, there isn’t much that goes on in the present other than washing the dishes and making ramen noodles. I was constantly in the wait for something interesting to actually happen, but the situations presented were so dry and broody without anything major actually going on to impact that atmosphere. This is where the plot runs a bit thin, because the book can be so focused on creating an emotional atmosphere that the story doesn’t really go anywhere in a certain direction.

Fortunately, the writing cues us to uncover Marin’s story, as it fluctuates in its emotional capacity in different moments. Marin could be closed off and isolated, and the reader can understand Marin’s emptiness, and when Marin is closer to revealing the memories she has repressed, the writing grows more intense and passionate. I would say this was one of the few aspects that kept me interested in the book, because We Are Okay tends to deliver its messages really quietly and reluctantly instead of being outright, and I don’t enjoy this type of delivery typically. However, the fluctuations in the writing every once in a while improved the character of the book and gave an idea in which direction it was headed.

The depressing but relatable characters: There aren’t many characters in this book, as most of the focus is on Marin and Mabel. Marin can be equally likable and frustrating. I’m sure everyone can relate to her loneliness and sadness at some point, and I could definitely understand her empty yet sorrowful persona that she exhibits most of the time. While I haven’t experienced the same tragedies that Marin went through, I could still connect to her struggle with wanting to close herself off and reluctantly needing to reach out to someone. She’s constantly filled with thoughts of misery, hopelessness, and anger towards herself and the past. But, that is all she is. Thoughts. Marin is so depressed throughout this book, that we never clearly see who she truly is beneath all the repression. While I could feel her pain, I couldn’t fully empathize with her because she is so angsty and … sad. I’m not left with the hollow feeling I usually get after reading an emotional book because I couldn’t connect to Marin’s vague ‘change’ from who she was to the broken person she is now. Her character is so cloudy and can be dramatic at times too, and while different people deal differently with grief, the way Marin was written was not my thing. Mabel was even more uninteresting, but I did enjoy when she and Marin were together. It felt as thought Marin was the most passionate, good or bad, around her, and I could finally reach out and touch their history together through their interactions.

A diverse romance with a surprising amount of depth: There is an LGBTQ romance between Marin and Mabel, one of the aspects of the novel which I enjoyed more. I could definitely sense how close they used to be and how much they loved each other, first non-romantically and then romantically. The flashbacks that involved the two of them allowed me to finally connect with their relationship and their characters more than other elements of the book. The strain and divide that Marin’s move had put on their closeness popped out of the page, and was one of the times where the emotion conveyed was real and raw, unlike the cloudiness present throughout the rest of the book. The novel is not romance focused at all, but the many shades to their love for each other contained the right amount of depth to add meaning beyond Marin’s sole issues and make the book more interesting.

To me, We Are Okay is where elements that I love and hate pertaining to emotional contemporary novels, collide, and form something that I can’t help but to be torn on. I would recommend this book to those who enjoy more subdued and quiet contemporaries, rather then straightforward and rawer ones.

-Haven

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