Summertime reading catch-up: Nina LaCour’s ‘We Are Okay’

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Dutton Books for Young Readers/2017

We Are Okay by Nina LaCour is the kind of book I wish I had gotten my hands on when I was a teenager. It is the kind of book I wish I could have handed to a younger version of myself, saying, “This is a necessary book.” The kind of book whose impact I wouldn’t have understood at that time in my life, but would come to realize later.

We Are Okay is LaCour’s most recent novel after working with David Levithan on You Know Me Well.

The novel follows Marin, a college freshman who has decided to stay in her dorm room for winter break. Her best friend Mabel is traveling from California to spend a few days with Marin and try to convince her to spend the break with her family. While Mabel is visiting, the reader also slowly learns about the events of the summer leading up to the girls starting college. Calling this a narrative about love and loss would be reductive, because the story is so much more than that: found families, evolving relationships, understanding how someone you thought you knew isn’t who you thought they were, and how you can still love them anyway.

As a rule, I don’t like sad stories. They just aren’t my jam. With LaCour’s story, the grief is palpable without entrenching the reader in unbearable sadness. The heartache is there, but the story isn’t about the tragedy. It’s about growing from it.

Marin’s inability to reveal the truth, and her desperation to appear fine and adjusted feels heartbreakingly honest to anyone who has experienced loss and upheaval in their life. Everyone is flawed but shown to still be deserving of love and kindness. The flaws are not excused; rather they are pieces to be worked on.

LaCour covers a variety of relationships: Grandparent to granddaughter. Female friendships. Young love. Young adult to elders. Daughter to dead mother. Daughter to dead mother’s friends. The characters are like onions, each layer delicately revealing itself to us.

The big plot twist regarding Marin’s past comes as no real surprise, but was a pleasant piece of the narrative nonetheless.

This book is important in how it reveals flawed young adults and their guardians as whole people, doing the best they can without excusing their mistakes. It features non-nuclear families. It features characters with mental illnesses not typically represented in mainstream media. It features queer characters without a coming-out narrative. It features characters figuring out love in all of its various stages.

I read We Are Okay in a couple of hours one afternoon, curled up with my dog, and I can only hope you are able to recreate a similar experience. It’s the type of book that makes you want to hold someone close. It’s the kind of book you need some chocolate after. Not because it ends sadly, but because it leaves you feeling tender, having encountered something honest.

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