About the Book

Title: When You Were Here
Published: 2013
Swoonworthy Scale: 5

Cover Story: Obscured Big Face
BFF Charm: Aww, Screw It — Love!
Talky Talk: Devastatingly Beautiful
Bonus Factors: Mother-Son Relationship, Loyal Pet, Tokyo
Relationship Status: My Grieving Boyfriend

Cover Story: Obscured Big Face

(To be fair, this is more like Mostly Big Chest. But Big Face is a persistent plague upon YA covers, so that gets priority. And that other label may give the wrong impression.)

It’s emo. It’s bland. While an argument can be made for the former — and emo would be justified, given the subject matter — the latter is SO INACCURATE. Though the cover gets points for that ethereal, peaceful tone it’s going for. But that tagline isn’t nearly enough of a warning for ALL THE FEELS YOU’RE GOING TO FEEL.

The Deal:

Danny Kellerman’s life has been so incredibly shitty. His mom has just succumbed to a five-year battle with cancer, with only three weeks to go before his high school graduation, aka the only thing she was hanging on to see. This past year, the girl he’s been in love with all his life broke up with him out of nowhere. And his sister has pretty much cut herself out of the fam ever since their dad was hit and killed by a truck six years ago. Like I said: So. Incredibly. Shitty.

But then Danny gets a strange letter from his mom’s property manager in Tokyo, where she had been going for treatment. So he sets off for Japan to figure out what to do with an apartment an ocean away—but more importantly, to make sense of his mother’s last months.

BFF Charm: Aww, Screw It—Love!

BFF charm that says "true love"

The fact that Danny has faced so much adversity (like, seriously—just re-read that paragraph) and isn’t a constant sobbing mess is enough to earn him a BFF charm. But he’s also SUCH a good guy! No, not a Nice Guy. But the kind of guy who’s hardworking and valedictorian smart (and gives one of the best speeches ever, BTW). Who stays level-headed even when he has every excuse not to. Who’s self-aware and sensitive. Who’s unashamed to love his family. Who eats raw fish for breakfast (OK, not a staple of a good guy, but a quality I admire nonetheless). In short, Danny Kellerman is pretty much PERFECTION.

But I find myself hesitant to completely fall in love with Danny. For one, his mother just died and he’s still freaking grieving. He’s got a mountain of newfound responsibility that no one his age should have to deal with. Plus, he’s still in love with someone else, so this is a symphony of poor circumstances. And if that wasn’t enough, he’s sort of on the verge of a painkiller addiction, if not already there. So no, I should not fall in love with Danny Kellerman. BUT I DID IT ANYWAY. And I regret NOTHING.

I also have a few bonus charms to hand out! Kana, the daughter of the property manager in Tokyo, is a delight. When I first met her, I was apprehensive that she’d be a manic pixie Japanese girl. While Kana may be a nonconformist, she has her own motivations and desires. And she knows where to find the best shoto sponge cakes, so obvs I love her.

And an apology to Danny’s sister Laini, who I initially wanted to facepunch SO MUCH. Fortunately, a little something called reality separates us, and getting to know someone is helpful in understanding their perspective. WHO KNEW?

Swoonworthy Scale: 7

Danny has loved Holland St. James for his whole life. Since the girl had the poor sense of breaking up with Danny, the swoon comes from all the immense yearning. Not to say things haven’t ever gotten physical. Danny has a healthy attitude towards sex—that is to say, he isn’t a horny dudebro.* He’s sweet. He’s respectful to women. And that’s SO HOT.

*But then again, I’m not well-versed in the side effects of painkillers, so maybe I’m giving his libido too much credit.

Talky Talk: Devastatingly Beautiful

I (foolishly) hadn’t read anything by Daisy Whitney prior to this book, but I knew about the power of her words from a previous FYA review. In fact, Whitney’s even been so kind as to describe the effect she has on me:

I feel as if someone has reached a hand through my chest, a fist, and it’s gripping my heart, squeezing it, wringing it…. 

This is how I felt by page TWENTY. And the hold that this book had on my heart never let up. Like, heart tugs worthy of a cardiologist! (Who’d then promptly tell me that I’m wasting valuable resources, and that I just need to let Daisy Whitney make me feel.)

And let me throw some math down for you. My copy has 166 e-pages. I highlighted 137 THINGS. With some of those being just straight paragraphs. So yeah, you could say I dig Daisy Whitney’s writing.

Bonus Factor: Mother-Son Relationship

Actually, ALL of Danny’s familial relationships could be a bonus factor (yes, even Not Actually Shitty Laini*). I esp. loved how his dad still lives on in the things he taught Danny. But I’m singling out the relationship at the heart of this story: a boy and his mother. And it’s fan-friggin’-tastic. She had to do it alone for six years, but she did such a fine job of raising a true gentleman. Real (sappy) talk: If I ever have a son, I hope he loves me as much as Danny loves his mom.

*It’s worth mentioning that Laini was adopted from China, which contributes to the disconnect she has with most of her family.

Bonus Factor: Loyal Pet

Golden retriever looking at camera while being hugged by a man

Danny’s dog is named Sandy Koufax (although this one’s a girl). She’s the one semblance of normalcy—as well as one of the few ties to his mom—that Danny still has. Not since Paul Anka the dog has a canine named after a celebrity won me over like this.

Bonus Factor: Tokyo

I must admit, I wasn’t that enamored with Tokyo during my own visit. (Granted, I was being rushed around like the tourist that I was.) But seeing it through Danny’s eyes makes me want to go back and explore the city the way it’s meant to be experienced.

Plus: check out this exclusive travel video of Daisy Whitney shopping for shoes in Tokyo’s Harajuku district!

Relationship Status: My Grieving Boyfriend

Look, this book is going through some stuff. Some raw and painful stuff. But we emerged from the other side, with our broken hearts mended. And as long as we have each other, I know we’re going to be OK.

FTC Full Disclosure: I received my free review copy from Little, Brown. This review was originally posted on Kirkus Reviews in exchange for monetary compensation, which did not affect or influence my opinions. When You Were Here is available now.

Mandy (she/her) lives in Edmonton, AB. When she’s not raiding the library for YA books, she enjoys eating ice cream (esp. in cold weather), learning fancy pole dance tricks, and stanning BTS. Mandy has been writing for FYA since 2012, and she oversaw all things FYA Book Club from 2013 to 2023.