we are okay

Here’s why I purchased this novel. The internet told me that Nina LaCour’s Hold Still might be comparable to the story I am writing – both in style and subject matter. The second reason I wanted Hold Still was the cover! There are lots of beautiful, comic-style YA covers out there, but this one is a beauty. When I couldn’t find Hold Still to purchase in Australia, I bought We Are Okay instead. Same author, beautiful cover, similar themes of grief and introspection.

And I’m glad I read it.

We Are Okay is Marin’s story. She tells of her confusion and grief as she moves on from high-school and begins university, leaving behind her loved ones and her beloved beach on the Californian coast.

There are some really beautiful descriptions which communicate that feeling of being on top of the world. Marin says of her school friends back then, “we were innocent enough to think that our lives were what we thought they were, that if we pieced all of the facts about ourselves together they’d form an image that made sense – that looked like us when we looked in the mirror” (p. 129). This ‘lightness’ is heavily juxtaposed with the loneliness and displacement Marin feels in present time in her student accommodation.

Here’s a synopsis without spoilers:

Marin has left the home she’s always known abruptly, something happened there which changed her worldview, and plunged her into grief.

An orphan at three-years-old, we learn early that her mother died surfing in the ocean she loved. Marin tries desperately to form lost memories of her mother, but with only one photograph and fifteen years of time-gone-by, she struggles to remember anything.

We hear her good memories too – of whisky and love on the beach, of baked-goods and salty hair and old men’s poker nights. And we slowly learn about Mabel, who is flying to New York to visit Mabel just before Christmas. We know Marin owes her an apology for something.

We assume it is the death of her Gramps (her carer and only family) that drove Marin to New York two weeks earlier than planned, holed up in a “worse than stale, worse than unclean” motel with paranoid schizophrenic neighbours. And there’s something else that tinges her grief – hurt and betrayal. We wonder what exactly happened.

Mabel accuses of Marin of just disappearing. “She’s right. If Mabel’s talking about the girl who hugged her goodbye before she left for Los Angeles, who laced fingers with her at the last bonfire of the summer and accepted shells from almost-strangers, who analysed novels for fun and lived with her grandfather in a pink, rent-controlled house in the Sunset that often smelled like cake and was often filled with elderly gambling men – if she’s talking about that girl, then yes, I disappeared.” (p. 47)

I loved the fierce love of Mabel, Marin’s best friend and first love, the excellent literary references (Jane Eyre and One Hundred Years of Solitude!), and the way the story is unravelled through Marin’s memories. I also really like a book that’s contemplative, and this certainly hits the mark there.

I found it amusing that LaCour says in her acknowledgments that she was worried the book consisted mainly of “making food and washing bowls,” because there was a lot of food talk (and I do want those yellow bowls). Also, as I was reading, I kept thinking, how do these eighteen-year-olds know how to cook so well? How does Gramps know how to cook chocolate Bundt cake and cookies? I’m hungry!

My criticism is that I wish Marin came around to understanding her Gramps more in the end. It was a little difficult to imagine that I would mourn the same way she does, although our lives could probably not be more disparate (for instance, her grandfather is her only known family, paling in comparison to my thriving Italian-style mob).

I also think that the story lost some impact with me towards the end, because even though I had some tears in the final chapter, it didn’t end with the storyline I was most invested in.

Read this book if are an overthinker, and if you like your stories without all the sparkle and pizzazz – We Are Okay just feels a bit more real.

I give We Are Okay 4 out of 5 handmade ceramic bowls (which is legitimately a full set).

I bought this book here.

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