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We Were Never Here

Review

We Were Never Here

WE WERE NEVER HERE is Jennifer Gilmore’s debut in young adult literature, but she has written many adult novels, such as SOMETHING RED and GOLDEN COUNTRY. In this novel, Gilmore creates powerful messages through complex characters in tragic but realistic situations.

“No matter how small each character’s role in the tale is, Gilmore provides insight into their complex life.”

WE WERE NEVER HERE follows the story of 16-year-old Lizzie Stoller who, in the beginning of the story, is an average teen. She works as a counselor-in-training at a camp in Maine until a sharp pain in her side and a subsequent sickness make normal life nearly impossible. She moves from the camp infirmary to a hospital in Washington D.C. near her house, but even after she is placed in a cancer ward, the doctors still have no idea what is wrong. Many things about her stay in the hospital change Lizzie’s life. She finally learns what has been causing all of her misery, and she has never heard of it: ulcerative colitis. Yet, in this hospital, Lizzie meets Conner, a 17-year-old volunteering with his dog Verlaine. This story follows Lizzie through her sickness, as she loses and finds herself and as she learns about the love of friendship, family and romance.
 
This tale is full of dynamic characters, each with their own flaws. No matter how small each character’s role in the tale is, Gilmore provides insight into their complex life. She creates fun and real characters with whom you can relate, either by seeing yourself or someone you know in their quirks and qualities.
 
With so many great characters, watching their relationships grow is a large part of this story. The main relationship this story focuses on is between Lizzie and Conner. Even though in the beginning of the novel their relationship felt forced and accelerated, Gilmore develops their relationship well as the characters discover more about each other. As events unfold throughout the story, their relationship becomes engaging and endearing. Readers watch many types of relationships with family, friends and romantic partners develop, including how they are shaped by Lizzie’s ulcerative colitis, allowing readers to ponder how illness and other life changing events would affect their own relationships. Gilmore explores many relationships between characters, each having a message to take from them, but sometimes it felt like there was not enough shown of the characters’ interactions to justify the vast developments in their relationships.
 
This story has themes that are important to young adult audiences, but can resonate with everyone. This text explores the significance of sickness and scars, both internal and external, the healing process and their long term effects. As Lizzie grows from experiences dealing with school, friends and romance, readers encounter questions such as whether mistakes can define a person and what experiences and characteristics make a person strong.
 
Once I was hooked, this book was difficult to put down. It is a quick read with many messages that stay with you long after closing its covers. This was Gilmore’s first young adult story, and I hope she continues to explore writing in the genre.

Reviewed by Alyssa Luis on June 17, 2016

We Were Never Here
by Jennifer Gilmore