Nina LaCour’s latest YA novel, We Are Okay, gives up its terrible secrets slowly. Marin Delaney is haunted, but not by the ghosts she reads about in her favorite novels: Jane Eyre, The Turn of the Screw, One Hundred Years of Solitude. She is haunted by the ghosts of her own past—what she remembers, what she now knows to be the truth, and what she has yet to understand about any of it. “I wonder if there’s a secret current that connects people who have lost something,” she thinks. “Not in the way that everyone loses something, but in the way that undoes your life, undoes your self, so that when you look at your face it isn’t yours anymore.”
Marin is a college freshman in New York. Instead of going home for the holidays, she is staying put—the only resident of an enormous 100-room dormitory. “Without everyone’s voices, the TVs in their rooms, the faucets running and toilets flushing, the hums and dings of the microwaves, the footsteps and the doors slamming—without all of the sounds of living—this building is a new and strange place,” she says. But college is the only safe place she can imagine. “I know where I am and what it means to be here,” she thinks. “I know that I am always alone, even when surrounded by people, so I let the emptiness in.”
Her best friend, Mabel, plans a three-day visit. They have not seen each other since Marin left San Francisco abruptly two weeks before school started. Following the disappearance of her beloved grandfather, Marin has severed all communication with home. Gramps had raised her since the death of her young mother in a surfing accident. Marin can’t remember her mother and never knew her father, so Gramps was her entire family. She thought they had a happy home, but now she understands that it was something else entirely. Mabel just wants to know why Marin ran away from everyone who loved her right when she needed them most.
Mabel’s presence is awkward at first, and the two friends distract themselves with shopping, eating, and talking about the poetry of Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton and the art of Frida Kahlo. When a bad winter storm hits and the power goes out, they adapt with the help of the college groundskeeper, who offers them food and shelter. What they avoid talking about—for a while—is how their relationship suddenly changed during their senior year, how Marin feels about Mabel’s new boyfriend, and what happened to make Marin bolt.
LaCour’s writing has a graceful, meditative quality and her story unfolds gradually, revealing the tragic reasons for Marin’s strange behavior through a series of flashbacks. Sensitive and perceptive, she struggles to come to terms with the depth of her heartbreak. “When I think of all of us then, I see how we were in danger,” she thinks. “We were innocent enough to think that our lives were what we thought they were, that if we pieced all of the facts about ourselves together they’d form an image that made sense—that looked like us when we looked in the mirror, that looked like our living rooms and our kitchens and the people who raised us—instead of revealing all the things we didn’t know.”
A graduate of Auburn University, Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.