Review: ‘We Are Okay’ by Nina LaCour
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Title: We Are Okay
Author: Nina LaCour
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Age range: older teens
Nina LaCour’s latest novel, We are Okay has a stunning cover that will likely draw readers’ eyes for a second look. The bed pushed up against a teal ocean reflects the protagonist’s tumultuous mindset and the feelings of insecurity and confusion she experiences. It’s a marvel.
We are Okay is an exploration of grief. While we chart Marin’s very slow acceptance of her grandfather’s death, we also grapple with the crumbled friendship with best friend, Mabel, and the burgeoning one with Hannah. For such a short book, it packs a punch.
At the core is the mystery of why Marin left so abruptly. Why she refused support from her close-knit community and fled across the country. This information is revealed in flashbacks, allowing the powerful metaphor of contrasting weather to represent Marin’s shattered psyche.
In the present, it is December in New York. There’s a winter storm predicted, and Marin’s bemused attitude to snow reflects her sense of displacement and alienation. Everything about this life seems surreal – college, strangers, big city, and the cold.
We flashback to California in the summer. In these chapters, we feel warmth, safety, protection. Even though Marin’s former home life is strange, it’s also wonderfully familiar. Life with Gramps has natural rhythms, and Mabel is a constant presence. They’re best friends, confidantes (and maybe something more?), and Mabel’s parents treat Marin as one of the family. It’s impossible to imagine that now, four months in the future, they haven’t spoken at all. It’s only as May becomes June, and turns into July that we start to piece together the fracturing, the rips in this tapestry of their life together.
Marin’s grief runs deep. But we come to realise it’s more than just Gramps’ death; it’s what she discovers about his life that shakes her. LaCour keeps these facts from us for much of the novel, so it’s important to remain in the dark until she’s ready to reveal them. By that time, we know much more about Marin’s life, before and after, and we know her loneliness is quite different to be being alone. It’s this very nuanced idea of disappearing, not only from those who love you, but also disappearing from within yourself, disappearing so that you don’t feel so lonely, that is explored in sharp incisive words.
LaCour makes us feel every bit of Marin’s sadness, yet when she confronts Mabel’s confusion, we also see how her perspective shifts, how she sees the consequences of her disappearance, and how she tries to own up to her mistakes. The title is used powerfully to depict a truth we hope is real. They will be okay. They will.
I have left out so much of the detail—the letter writing, the tragic death of Marin’s mother years ago, Hannah’s kindness, and Marin’s attraction to girls—but it’s best to read these for yourself. This is an immersive read. You drown in Marin’s sadness, you breathe in her summer happiness, and you mourn her loss of innocence. By the last pages, you might be crying and laughing simultaneously or you may not. But I dare you to walk away from the book without feeling something. It’s such a strong experience of emotion. Marin’s insights and shifts are clear and truthful. She will be okay. Thank goodness.
I found this story beautiful and profound. Highly recommended to older teens who like their stories with emotionally honesty. There’s not much plot, and the action is slow and punctuated with grief, but it’s also wise and wonderful.
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