You Are Not Here by Samantha Schutz
Release Date: October 2010
Publisher: Scholastic Inc.
A startling novel about love and grief from the author of the acclaimed memoir I Don't Want to Be Crazy. Annaleah and Brian shared something special - Annaleah is sure of it. When they were together, they didn't need anyone else. It didn't matter that their relationship was secret. All that mattered was what they had with each other. And then, out of nowhere, Brian dies. And while everyone else has their role in the grieving process, Annaleah finds herself living outside of it, unacknowledged and lonely. How can you recover from a loss that no one will let you have?
On the surface You Are Not Here is merely another verse novel about death. Girl loves boy. Boy dies. Girl grieves, letting her own life disappear with his. The story is hardly new nor groundbreaking. Death and grieving is a common and slightly overused thread among the YA world.
However, go deeper and the real story begins to appear. A story of an instant connection, a secret love, and a world that is all theirs. However, when Brian dies suddenly of a heart condition, she learns that that secret bubble they created comes at a price. She realizes that she barely knew anything about him. Even worse, she’s not sure if they were really boyfriend/girlfriend or if anyone in his everyday life knew about her. A fact that forces Annaleah to remain an unknown face among the sea of his family and friends; forcing her to grieve alone and question every aspect of their relationship. She’ll have to decide if holding onto that love is worth losing everything else along the way.
While Schutz does a good job of revealing Annaleah and Brian’s story by alternating between past and present, I’m not sure I ever formed a deep connection with Annaleah. I understood what made her tick, but I still wanted to shake some sense into her. While there some sweet moments between them, it was overshadowed by the games he played and how he kept her at arm’s length. He was a jerk, a player, and mainly kept her around as a booty call. Instead of kicking him to the curb, she waited for him to call and deem her worthy of his attention. Even after his death, she is willing to throw away friends who truly care about her and while she does redeem herself in the end, it felt a little too late for me.
Teens, on the other hand, will enjoy the fast paced verse. The story is compelling and will hold their attention with ease. You Are Not Here will be well loved by those who have experienced their own loss due to death or enjoy the true-to-life stories. While not as gritty as Hopkins, this is still a nice recommendations for her fans. I would also suggest Twenty Boy Summer and I Heart You, You Haunt Me as good read-a-likes.
Note: This was my first book read from my Off The Bookshelf Challenge. I did overall like You Are Not Here, but I will pass this one on to my teens. It’ll be a nice addition to my summer reading free book selection and I know a teen will enjoy/appreciate it even more than I did.