“I listened to the same heartbroken song the entire bus ride home, because it was still a summer when sadness was beautiful.”
We Are Okay
★★★★★ | backlist
We Are Okay is a book about learning the people you used to love were something beyond what you believed them to be. It is a book about learning to move on. It is a book about learning to be with yourself and be with your grief. It is also a book about loneliness, deep and profound loneliness, cloying and suffocating.
In clearer terms, this is a book about Marin, a girl who has lost her grandfather, and in doing so, pushed away her former best friend, Mabel. So when Mabel comes to town, Marin does not know what to do with the memories. Marin at once does not want Mabel here, regrets her being here, but also desperately wants Mabel to love her. She has walls up and she wants them down, but she is too terrified for them to ever come down. Marin has lost everything, including Mabel, her best friend and her maybe-something-more.
But it’s not a romance between Marin and Mabel. That is what is perhaps the saddest part. I once saw Nina LaCour talk live about this book, and she said something that perfectly sums up what is so arresting about this book: being queer and in love with your best friend is different than being straight and in love with your best friend. One is an experience in first love, and one is also that, but with an added experience of fear – not of rejection but of disgust. We do not want to hurt our best friends by loving them. We have learned to be ashamed of love and we carry that with us, through thick and through thin.
“If only I had something to take the edge off the loneliness. If only lonely were a more accurate word. It should sound much less pretty.”
Loneliness is not a queer-only experience, not by any means; that would not be a fair claim. But being queer is a loneliness experience. We are all, in our own ways, not a part of the norm, not a part of the life others are allowed. (“I could say the night felt magical, but that would be embellishment – that would be romanticization. What it actually felt like was life,” Marin says of her first and only date with Mabel.) And in the wake of losing a grandfather, of losing the only person she has ever been raised by, Marin has found herself caught in a trap of being alone; she cannot rekindle a friendship with Mabel, because their history screams too loud.
None of this is stated in We Are Okay, but the idea of loneliness is perhaps the most consistent fact of the story; whether alone or with Mabel, Marin is always lonely. She is always lonely, until she and Mabel finally discuss and unpack their history, and move on to a future where they can both heal, as friends if not as lovers.
We Are Okay is not an action-packed story, and it is not in your face, and it will not make you scream at One Specific Significant Line. It is a book to feel, a book to hurt, and a book to heal. I’ve been trying to understand for months how I felt about this book because I think sitting on something like this is absolutely essential. We Are Okay is an incredibly slow, an incredibly quiet, an incredibly subtle story, but thinking back on my experience reading it two years ago, I feel like crying. It means the world.