There are some books that you hear about constantly and when you finally read them you get upset for buying into the hype. We Are Okay is not one of those books. Nina LaCour has done something that I thought was impossible: she’s made me appreciate a character-driven book when I am normally an action-driven book-reader. With her beautifully poetic words and subtle themes, I breezed through the small book. Coming out of the other side with complicated feelings, I’ll be thinking about We are Okay for a very long time.
Originally published: February 14, 2017 |Author: Nina LaCour |Genre: Fiction, Young Adult, New Adult |Publisher: Dutton Books, Penguin
What I liked:
I hope Nina LaCour wouldn’t be offended by this, but I have to say it: This woman is an WRIT-ER. Not just a writer. But a WRIT-ER. Nina writes in the way that I wish I could. There is a level of complexity in her sentence structure that isn’t flashy or super wordy. She says the exact amount of subtlety to really hit you. I found myself wondering why I hadn’t read anything else by her.
Let’s talk about the setting for a moment. As a Native New Yorker, an upstate New York Winter college (Vassar or maybe Sarah Lawrence) was as perfect mood for grief. The connection the main character Marin has to Jane Eyre is spot on. It made me wonder: is Nina writing the next new female gothic? Another discussion for another day.
Until you spend a winter in New York with its sleepy depressing glow, you can’t understand how perfect of a choose this setting is to describe grief. Luckily, if you haven’t Nina spends a lot of time describing the New York winter’s malevolent space. In the way, the New York winter is a very important atmospheric character for We Are Okay.
Speaking of character, We Are Okay is a very character driven and one-liner broody novel. Considering that there are really only three or so major characters, we really get to know them.
The main characters are Marin, a late teen who picked up and vanished to her sleepy New York college without telling anyone back home.
Mabel, her best friend who’s come to visit her.
And Gramp’s, Marin’s grandpa who we only know of in the post-Morten sense, as we only see Gramp’s in flashbacks.
Everyone other character is shown or talked about in passing, flashbacks for mere seconds or in like two pages. This works to LaCour’s advantage though, without additional characters we are able to sit with the grief of the few characters.
With as little spoilers as possible, Marin was a character who frustrated me in the beginning and I think that is Nina’s intention. By the end, I grew very protective of her. Nina made me reminisce about my own life, loss, and how I grieved. Marin became a mirror of myself and I think others will find this as well. Though I have never ran across country to college to forget about my former life, I’ve done similar things when in deep depression. As time went on, I wanted to just hold Marin and explain that as the title suggests “We Are Okay”, which is a compliment on the writing. LaCour humanizes the characters and creates sympathy for all main characters.
This went doubly for Mabel, who frustrated me even more at times. By the end of the novel, I realized how Mabel was signifying another type of loss: the loss of losing a friend. Which is a subject that many authors try to tackle and fail. Nina handles this topic with just hand-holding grace that I was left knowing my angry with Mabel was misplaced.
While Nina doesn’t offer clear cut-advice about how to handle grief, she intensely explores types of coping mechanics. Some people run away. Some people stay in denial. Some people use new romantic love interests as distractions. The real way these themes were discussed polarizes me as I haven’t seen it fleshed out this well in any YA/NA novel before. There was so much love expressed especially in the last few pages that I won’t forget for a long time.
What I didn’t Like:
This is just a personal gripe and I don’t think it was Nina’s intention necessarily. The middle of the book, though beautiful became a little bit tropey and lacked a lot of movement. For the rest of my review, I must issue some spoilers as it tailored to plot. So if you don’t want to read spoilers, skip to the TLDR:
The tropiest area of We are Okay has to be when conveniently the electric goes out and Marin and Mabel have to stay at the really creepy groundskeepers house. I wish I could say that I didn’t roll my eyes really hard, but I did.
In additional, there were a lot of unnecessary flashbacks that just felt forced and I couldn’t get behind. While I enjoyed the ones with Marin and her grandfather, almost every other one left me a little bit annoyed. I think the inclusion of additional friendships in the flashbacks were not needed.
The romantic relationship between Marin and Mabel was heartbreaking and honestly left me a little mad. I got the feeling that Mabel never told her parents that she and Marin slept with each other, otherwise why would they be so ready to adopt Marin? Maybe that is a reality that happens, but it just feels very un-progressive? Also, Mabel has a boyfriend at her respective college. This is a topic that is only briefly discussed and it felt like it a looming topic over the entire trip. To that point, Marin and Mabel’s felt romance was just so underutilized and then forcefully explained within a couple of pages. In the end, it felt almost as if Nina was a bit scared to go into their coupled story. Maybe she thought it would distract from the themes at hand? But then it shouldn’t have be included at all.
It is totally fine that Marin and Mabel don’t really end up together in the end. But the idea that Marin would now de-facto become Mabel’s adopted sister? That just didn’t sit right with me. It felt almost to a lesser extent of a “Bury Your Gays” ending. Maybe that wasn’t LaCour’s intention, but that’s how it felt. Especially when you place this relationship with Marin’s very underdeveloped not clear relationship with her roommate Emily. Again, that was a plot point that felt like a giant elephant in the room. Why include this detail if you don’t want to explore it?
The whole Marin and Mabel’s relationship was confusing: We were once lesbians or bisexual best friends in love, but now that you haven’t spoken to me for three months after your grandpa and only family died. I’ve moved onto to a new heteronormative relationship, so now you can be my sister? I’m sorry, but that doesn’t sit right with me. I know Nina is a queer woman too herself and credits her wife to inspiring this story, but something about those details did not sit right with me.
Would I recommend:
Despite the above, obviously I would recommend this. I am still thinking about that ending were I actually blubbered like a baby. There were just so many lyric beautiful quotes too pull, I couldn’t even pick one. We Are Okay is a book that everyone will get something from.
TLDR: WE ARE OKAY IS A HEARTBREAKING RAW STORY OF LOVE, LOSS, DEPRESSION AND GRIEF THAT READERS AT ANY AGE WILL WALK AWAY WITH SOMETHING.
Did you love We Are Okay? What’s your favorite quote? Let’s Discuss in the comments!
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