If you are familiar with Nina LaCour’s writing, then you’re used to ending her novels with a lot of feelings. Her most recent book, We Are Okay, stole my breath away. When I say I couldn’t put it down, I’m not exaggerating. LaCour has incorporated family, grief, first love, and sexuality beautifully into a story that is perhaps one step after the “coming of age” novel but that is no less a deeply personal journey for the protagonist.
The story begins with our protagonist, Marin, at the start of her winter break during her freshman year of college. The very first chapter instilled in me a feeling of loneliness, with the description of Marin’s roommate Hannah leaving; being all alone in the dorms with only herself, the groundskeeper, and the silence; and the small but significant challenge of opening an envelope that Hannah left on her pillow. The next day, Marin’s childhood best friend Mabel will visit for three days, and then Marin will once again be alone with her bed, netflix, and the essay collection on solitude that Hannah left her.
Marin’s mind is full of ghosts, and as the book progresses, we learn about them only as she is ready to share them and face them with herself and Mabel. As she and Mabel work through the emotions left after a semester of separation and silence, we are let in on her relationship with her Gramps, her image of her long-dead mother, and the person she was over the summer vs. now.
One of the things I love about this book is Mabel and Marin’s friendship. The fact that Mabel shows up at Marin’s dorm after a semester of silence shows a commitment to their relationship in itself, and it tells me just how well she knows Marin after all. They have a complicated history themselves, as any best friends do, and I don’t think anyone else could have made Marin face the tragedy she left behind in California like Mabel did. As the story progresses, their conversations are heartfelt, emotionally loaded, sometimes angry, sometimes tearful, but always understanding.
Another aspect of the book that made it so beautiful and poignant to read were the descriptions of Marin’s surroundings. LaCour has an uncanny way of supplementing Marin’s emotions with the way she describes Marin’s surroundings. This can easily be seen in the difference between her description of downtown and the dorms before Marin’s family arrives, versus after.
We Are Okay deals with Marin’s present, and the past she has to work through, by giving us each in alternating chapters. This book tore me open, made me cry, and pieced my heart back together again. I’ve read it twice since buying it in March, and it’s definitely one of the most important books I’ve read this year. It also features a queer, latinx protagonist, which is pretty awesome. Nina LaCour is an amazing writer, and everyone should read We Are Okay at some point this year. Oh, and one last thing: this book was haunting, but the ending is beautiful.
Happy reading! ~Sim