We are okay by Nina LaCour

cover image

University of Queensland Press, 2019. ISBN: 9780702262562.
(Age: 15+) Recommended. Winner 2018 Michael L. Printz Award. This book is a compelling story told by Marin who is attending college in New York. Isolation is front and centre from the first page where we find Marin alone in the school dormitory. Told from Marin's perspective the reader becomes aware of events through the feelings and memories she acknowledges. Her determination to close herself off is seemingly impenetrable. She has convinced school administration that she had no family or friends to visit for Christmas and so has been permitted to stay in the school under the indirect supervision of the groundskeeper.
The reader immediately finds this information to be unreliable as Marin begins to prepare for a three day visit by Mabel, a friend from Marin's previous life in California. Marin's preparation is methodical and yet heartbreaking. She spends a day decorating her side of the dorm room so it will no longer be empty, but give the appearance of a space belonging to someone who is happy and not the person who has not responded to Mabel's texts and calls for the past three months.
Marin's love for Mabel washes over her as she comes to terms with Mabel's presence - and her boyfriend back in California. LaCour sensitively describes their past sexual relationship and the delicate manner in which Mabel establishes new boundaries in their friendship.
The arrival of Mabel begins the elaboration on grief. The writing is subtle yet packs a powerful punch as the reader is led to understand the story of Marin, her mother, her grandfather and Mabel. In the last chapters of the book the reader cannot help but mourn the losses with Marin, and feel her hope as her insights shift and she realises they will all be okay.
This is a powerful book where the themes of grief, first love, sexuality, family relationships, friendship and solitude are explored sensitively.
Linda Guthrie