Danny is an 18 year old orphan. Not only did he lose his dad in a car accident six years ago, he also lost his mother to cancer, 2 months shy of his graduation from high school. Danny’s sister lives in China and the only company he has in his family’s home in Santa Monica, California is his dog, Sandy Koufax. After graduation, Danny takes a s journey to what he calls his second home, Tokyo, Japan. His family has an apartment there where his mother spent a few days each month trying to find a cure for her cancer, her last hope. Danny hopes to find answers to many questions that he believes his mom’s former doctor can answer. He also hopes to understand more about his mother’s final months alive and why Japan made her so happy. Danny finds more than answers in Japan. He finds friendship; love; and most importantly, peace.
When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney left me breathless. It is rare that I find a book that I love from start to finish. It is also very rare that I read a book that surprises me. This novel has many surprises that are not only unexpected, but also sad. For a Young Adult novel, When You Were Here is very deep.
This book wasn’t all about death and dying. There were several times during the novel where I laughed. Danny’s valedictorian speech is epic. As in, if I was valedictorian in high school, I wish I would have had the guts to say exactly what he said. Because honestly, who doesn’t feel that way about high school?
What I loved most about When You Were Here is that it is mainly set in Japan. The depiction of Danny’s time in Japan reminded me so much of Korea; I wanted to crawl into the pages and explore with Danny and his new friend, Kana. I adore Kana. It’s funny because she is so much like Lola in Lola and the Boy Next Door by Stephanie Perkins, except her creative outfits didn’t strike me as fake or weird. Although, in Asia, anything goes, nothing surprises me about the culture after living in Korea for so long. I was a little taken back by the robot making self serve ice cream in Japan, though. We did not have anything like that in Korea.
Another part of the book that pulled at my heart strings is the relationship Danny has with his dog. I just love a good dog character in a book and Sandy Koufax seemed to be the kind of dog that could write his own book. I wanted my dog to be best friends with Sandy. I could see them running on the beach together in California, chasing tennis balls. There aren’t many things sweeter than the love between a man and his pup.
There honestly isn’t anything I would change about When You Were Here by Daisy Whitney. I even liked the ending, which hardly ever happens. I do wish the book wasn’t as sad, even though I knew it would be a tear jerker. I’m glad I didn’t read it while I was pregnant. Hey, it you’re pregnant, don’t read this book. Consider yourself warned. That’s all I’ll say about that.