“We were miraculous”: Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay

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I’m not sure when I’ve been so moved by a novel as I was reading Nina LaCour’s We Are Okay. It’s a beautiful story, unflinching in its portrayals of grief and absolutely perfect in its prose. To say this is a book about growing up, about first love and first loss is to reduce its subtle sense of wonder and to overlook its nuanced melancholy. LaCour successfully distills the sharp sadness of youth, weaving together the shock and the boredom, the hope and the fear of despair, in a character’s voice who brought me back to myself at eighteen and made me wish that I had heard her then.

The novel takes place in an East Coast freshman dorm, emptied for Christmas, over the handful of days when Marin’s high school girlfriend, Mabel, comes to visit. Over the course of the book, through flashes of memory, we learn about Marin’s former life in San Francisco where she lived with her grandfather in a house by Ocean Beach. We learn about the mysterious death of her mother. We watch as Marin and Mabel grow close. LaCour’s description of teenage sexuality is achingly and subtly rendered. Marin and Mabel’s story is beautifully underwritten, lyrical, and linked to the landscape:

We were miraculous.

We were beach creatures.

We had treasures in our pockets and each other on our skins.

LaCour’s descriptions of loss in all its various forms of death and age and memory and distance and the growing apart and growing different that happens to all of us, are even more evocative:

In my mind, we keep ending, ending. I try to stay here, now, for as long as we can.

I have to admit that I cried through much of this book. But it was a good kind of crying. I cried for the novel’s crystalline wonder, for its perfectly wrought narrator and the way, in her desperate reaching for beauty and truth, she begins to grasp a kind of wisdom.

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