Before his high school graduation, Danny's mother succumbed to cancer. Stuck with only his dog and ex-girlfriend's mother for company, Danny doesn't think twice about high-tailing it to Japan when a letter from Tokyo arrives for him. Because there are some things that don't exactly fit the picture right...
Danny lost his mother to cancer, and his dad earlier to a car accident in Kyoto, so he's basically an orphan. Being rich and gorgeous, and having everything he could possibly ever ask for, are just some petty things to fill in the void of what really matters. I could understand his snap decision to jet off to Tokyo because his mom always loved it there, the property he's inherited, as well as needing some time to himself without anyone reminding him of the way things were before. Not that Danny's a stranger to Tokyo either, but it's a good place to lose himself for a while. And while the fact that there are Japanese who are very well versed in witty English banter did kind of shock me for a bit on top of it being entirely too coincidental (I mean, I know that there obviously are fluent English speakers, but I do wish that I had even just one very coincidentally fluent English-speaking local Japanese stranger to intervene on my behalf all these times I've been to Japan when I've always had to use Google Translate or hand signs to communicate.) What I also appreciate is that Danny's Japan is a different Japan from what I'm accustomed to. Danny's Japan has that lived-in approach to it, something that's off-limits to even a frequent visitor like me. But, this Japan is not as flavorful as one hopes the book will be, so if you're intrigued by this because it might shed some light on modern-day Japan, it actually doesn't.
Let's move on to Danny. Danny doesn't really talk to me. As a reader, I'm inside his head but there's absolutely nothing about him that evokes any kind of feeling from me. I'm not saying that Danny's pain isn't real, or that he's a total fake just because his angst wasn't as, err, angsty, as I expected it, but I didn't really feel anything, save for annoyance because dude. That. Freaking. Surprise. Twist. (But more on that later.) I'm not saying that a book has to make me hurt inside and cry and bawling, "What happens to my life now?!" for me to actually press people to read it because LIFE. (Which I do, and have done. Twice. The hurting and crying and bawling part. Which I don't usually do. And the person I usually press to read stuff I cry over is my co-blogger, who I'd like to think reads the stuff anyway because she loves me, and because she takes delight in something that has tormented me.) I thought that the reason I could not fully absorb Danny's character was because he always held himself away, even from the readers. And at that, his time to "get over" his Mom's death just felt a bit too quick for me, too... formulated. Hold up before you say that maybe Danny's not done moving on yet, or that Danny's still grieving in his own way and readers shouldn't get a blow-by-blow account of how he feels like scum every time he opens his eyes and realizes that he's alive and his mom isn't and that we all grieve differently. It just didn't really work for me.
On to a good thing that I did however, feel the need to thank the heavens for, would be because there was no convoluted love triangle to speak of. I did initially think that "Oh no, his heart's broken and here comes this Japanese girl who heals him." No, there was none of that, so that was one cliche dodged.
I have talked about Danny, but I haven't quite gotten to the other people in the novel yet. There's Holland, the ex-girlfriend Danny's still pretty much into and who's still pretty much still in love with him. I'd like to say she's nothing spectacular, except for being the most gorgeous girl in Danny's eyes, and she has to do with the surprise twist, which by now I'm guessing, you can tell that I don't like. Kana, the housekeeper's daughter who helps Danny piece together his mother's life in Japan, was okay. She kept Danny company, and was amusing to watch, most especially when she was not 'fessing up to her Harajuku-inspired fashion choices.
Now to the hard part. When You Were Here was, in all honesty, a chore for me to finish. Like I said, Danny was holding himself back from even himself, and he does things in a way that could probably be attributed to his emotions, but even then, Danny's just sort of there and we're all just watching him from the sidelines. The surprise twist absolutely threw me off, and not in a good way either. I wasn't a big fan of it, and I know that in real life, sometimes spit hits the ceiling fan real good, but c'mon. Just... no. It wasn't just something that you could and should hide from anyone, least of all the party involved, and it was just all kinds of wrong. While it did make Danny "grow", it was hardly the right time to deal with that. Two lefts don't make a right, after all. They just kind of put you back where you came from. While Danny did deal with it in a way that he's kind of supposed to, I kind of doubt that it was the kind of thing that would have been really helpful.
If you plan on reading When You Were Here because Japan is involved, I'm not really sure that this is the book for you. While it does feature Japan heavily, it's not exactly the same Japan I'd want people who've never been to, imagine. If you plan on reading this one because of the nature of the circumstance, I get it, but likewise, I'm not exactly sure that this will resonate with you either.