We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

we-are-okayWe Are Okay is a slow, lush, sad, beautiful book. After her grandfather dies, Marin flees her home of San Francisco for college in upstate New York. She leaves everything behind: her home, her possessions, her best friend Mabel and her family. She is a young woman starting over in a new place, completely alone in the world, grieving and lost. The book takes place over a few days during her winter break, when her friend Mabel comes to visit, and is punctuated by flashbacks to the summer leading up to her departure.

LaCour’s prose is just stunning, and the audio is equally fantastic. I highly recommend the book in that form. Jorjeana Marie’s narration is brilliant; I was convinced that she was eighteen year old Marin. Listening to the book allowed me to fully sink into Marin’s loneliness, her grief, her isolation, and her spark and spirit.

Like the best YA novels out there (The Poet X and History Is All You Left Me come to mind), so much of the strength of this book is in the depth and complexity of Marin’s character. She’s articulate, authentic, hurting. She’s wrestling with so much. She’s a mess,  but she’s also introspective. LaCour allows her to be a real, whole person, with mature and conflicting desires. It’s always a joy to read books in which teenagers get to be fully realized people.

I love the way this book explores all the various forms that love, as well as grief, can take. There are so many relationships in this book, and they shift and shift and shift. There’s Marin’s relationship with Mabel, with her Gramps, with her dead mother, with her college roommate, with Mabel’s parents. All of these relationships are fully explored, in all the ways they shape Marin’s life. Every relationship felt specific and vital; even the minor characters were so beautifully flushed out, with details that lingered in my mind. Humans need and crave so many kinds of love and family, and, though this book was very much about grief, it was also very much a celebration of all those different kinds of connection.

As the book progresses, more and more is reveled about what happened the summer before Marin left for college, and why she decided to leave so abruptly after her grandfather’s death. It never felt forced to me. Rather, it felt authentic to the way a young grieving person might slowly come to terms with her emotions and memories. The book built on itself, layering past and present, the complexity increasing as Marin and Mabel delved deeper into their shared history. At the end of the book I was left with such a complete picture of family and of grief, of the ways grief can lead us both toward and away from each other

We Are Okay is quiet, slow-burning, and internal. It is full of glassy, shimmering sentences. LaCour’s ability to capture moments of emotion–of romance, friendship, anger, humor, and loss–is sharp. There’s also a lovely sense of place in the writing, both about the quiet of rural New York in the winter and about San Francisco, especially the ocean. In addition, I really appreciated all the intellectual exploration of the world, especially art and writing. I loved the conversations Mabel and Marin had about Jane Eyre and Frida Kahlo.

I had heard good things about this one, but I was still pleasantly surprised by its beauty and depth. It’s definitely going on my list of all time favorite books that deal with grief.

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