WE ARE OKAY — Nina LaCour

cover illustration we are okay by nina lacour
Publisher Dutton Books for Young Readers
Genre Coming of Age/Young Adult
Narrative voice Third-Person
Pairing Lesbian/Questioning
Content warnings Death of a family member, grief, depression, isolation
Maturity rating 14+
Rating 🌈🌈🌈🌈

We were miraculous. We were beach creatures. We had treasure in our pockets and each other on our skin.

— WE ARE OKAY

WE ARE OKAY is a novel that does not centre its queerness in the sense that it isn’t your typical coming of age + coming out story. It is an undeniably queer story, but Marin’s romantic feelings for and attraction towards her best friend, Mabel, are part of an additional narrative conflict that is both caused by and a contributing factor to the story of her grief.

Marin’s Family & Her Grief

Marin grieves so many people in this novel: she grieves her grandfather, recently passed away, she grieves her mother all anew because of the secrets she discovers, and she grieves her relationship with her best friend — potential girlfriend? What she discovers inside the house she had lived in with her grandfather before moving — running away — to college with barely anything but the clothes on her back, her savings, and her passport, is devastating.

It opens up the wounds of her mother’s tragic death riding the waves, it makes her question the very fibre of her relationship with her grandfather. All their interactions that seemed to easy and light at first, a system carved out between them that works because it lets them both have their space and privacy, becomes a tangle of deception once the mystery is revealed. No matter whether you have a hunch going into the scene, it will still hit you like a bag of bricks.

The story is told in flashbacks and patterns, and the more Marin does not deal with her grief in New York, the more we learn about the past; and as we come ever closer to the reason for her leaving, the greater becomes the sense of foreboding. LaCour builds this foreboding expertly and with efficient pacing. Her prose is simple yet poetic, and the view we get into Marin’s mind and heart are immediate. She’s a typical young woman and at the same time she is not: in limbo of sorts, as is often the case with those who have been forced to grow up all at once.

A Reluctant Romance

As concerns her relationship with Mabel: whether you find yourself rooting for their romantic relationship or simply a reparation of their friendship, their relationship is touching and experimental, at turns solid and real, and then fragile and questioning. They know how to be best friends, how to live in each other’s pocket, but everything changes the first time they their kisses turn from ‘practice’ to want, reality, and desire.

Months later, Mabel has a boyfriend now, but talks about him haltingly, scarcely, as though she knows it will hurt Marin; who is afraid that Mabel views her as a phase, as an experiment — and who hasn’t been in love with the Straight Girl? But the novel does not entirely fall into this trope, if only because Mabel is never intentionally cruel.

Mabel tells her boyfriend he has nothing to worry about, that she loves him; but what she tells Marin about him still marks him as a boyfriend of convenience and of denial. To their closeness, she says, ‘We agreed we wouldn’t do that anymore,’ and Marin reminds her that they didn’t so much agree as there was an ultimatum formulated as a request. It’s fear of how much their relationship has suffered after Marin’s escape; it’s fear of how their relationship might yet change if Marin does come home with her. That closeness is still there, and so’s the longing.

And in the end, hope.

Next on the reading list… THE OLD GUARD by Greg Rucka & Leandro Fernández

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