Gayle Forman

I Was Here

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I Was Here Summary

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The young adult novel I Was Here (2015) by bestselling author Gayle Forman tells the story of a young woman grieving the suicide of her best friend by trying to solve the apparent mystery of why a seemingly happy person would kill herself. During the course of the novel, various possible motivations are presented and explored – but none offers a complete answer to this “mystery” because, in the end, there is no mystery to solve, but just a death to mourn. As a quick warning: the novel has been described as too graphic in its descriptions of suicidal ideation for some readers.

Eighteen-year-old Cody is suffering through yet another memorial service for her best friend, Meg Garcia. Meg killed herself by checking into a motel, leaving a large tip for the maid, and then drinking an industrial poison. Since then, Cody, Meg’s parents, and the police have been receiving time-delayed emails from Meg that try to explain her decision to end her life.

Although Meg and Cody had been close since their childhood in a small poor town in the Pacific Northwest, Meg’s academic talent allowed her to get a scholarship to a college in Seattle – a move that necessarily put some distance into the relationship. Now, Cody is dealing not only with the death of her best friend, but also with her feelings of hopelessness about still being stuck in a town she can’t escape because she can’t afford college. Her emotional state also opens up unhealed wounds about her absent father and her less than ideal mother.

After the service, Meg’s parents ask Cody to travel to Meg’s college apartment to pack up the few things she left there. Hoping to spare them some pain, Cody agrees. However, as she makes her way there, Cody is suspicious about why Meg would end such an enviable life. It doesn’t make sense that Meg would make this kind of choice, so Cody doesn’t simply pack up Meg’s stuff but, instead, goes through her things and her computer and interrogates her roommates in order to solve what now looks like a mystery.

The more Cody searches, the more seeming clues she finds. During her time in the city, Meg apparently turned into an indie rock enthusiast who frequented a bunch of small clubs in order to get to know the bands. One of these excursions turned into a weird one-night-stand situation with a musician named Ben McAllister, whose interest faded even as Meg emailed him to try to continue a relationship. Did Ben’s callousness drive Meg to suicide?

Cody also finds an encrypted file in the trash folder of Meg’s laptop – a discovery that leads to the novel’s most shocking revelation. Meg was a member of “The Final Solution,” a horrifically named fictional online pro-suicide support group, in which members describe how they want to kill themselves and other members encourage them to do it, calling suicide a brave decision or an act of rebellious non-conformity. Cody is sickened by what she sees in this horrible corner of the DeepWeb, especially when she finds out that Meg corresponded often with one particular forum member with the handle All_BS, a seemingly older user who offered endless quotations to the younger posters to make killing themselves sound like a great option. Did this mysterious man actually manipulate Meg to take her life?

As she digs deeper into Meg’s old life, Cody finds herself living it on Meg’s behalf – and maybe living it better. When she asks Meg’s former roommates questions, it turns out that religious pothead Richard, friendly hacker Harry, and free spirit Alice never really got to know her – but they do bond with Cody. More surprisingly, Cody develops feelings for the sarcastic and obnoxious Ben, who brags about his status as a “player.”

After Harry helps Cody figure out that All_BS is a man named Bradford Smith who lives in Nevada, Cody asks Ben to take a road trip out there with her to confront him. On the journey, Ben’s unpleasant persona fades as he admits that he also has feelings for Cody. They have sex, which is the first time for Cody.

Cody wonders if the fact that All_BS lives in Nevada is fate telling her something: her long-absent father lives in Nevada also; maybe this is the right moment to confront him as well. However, after taking a detour to track him down, Cody decides not to confront him face to face after all. There is no point since it won’t change what has happened in her life as a result of him abandoning her.

Cody and Ben speak to Bradford Smith – a reprehensible man who has gone out of his way to make it impossible to pin the blame for any of the forum users’ suicides on the things he posted. Nevertheless, it is clear from the conversation that Meg had been contemplating suicide long before she encountered All_BS. She was determined to kill herself with or without his help.

Depressed, Cody vaguely wonders whether these are the kinds of experiences and realizations that make suicide sound like a good option, but despite the fact that she hates her life in some ways, she is not really at risk for ending it. She breaks things off with Ben and returns home to deliver Meg’s stuff to the Garcias and tell them about the online group and its influence. However, the Garcias tell Cody that there was no one reason for Meg’s suicide: Meg killed herself because she had suffered from depression all of her life. This mental illness runs in the Garcia family; her parents never told anyone that Meg had it to spare their daughter the stigma. Cody is shocked – she would never have suspected that Meg could hide something this big for so long.

Ben arrives in Cody’s hometown and they confess their love for each other. At the end of the novel, they have been together for a year, and they scatter Meg’s ashes.