Why We Came To The City by Kristopher Jansma

I’d read Kristopher Jansma before, but Why We Came to the City was amazing. I adore this book.

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 10.15.49 AMI instantly fell in love with the first few introductory pages. It’s truth, it’s youth, & I love it. I started highlighting my favorite bits until I realized I was basically highlighting entire pages. Then that first chapter! It sets up these five characters that you just want to be best friends with. The camaraderie of being young! The witty banter! I’m hooked. I’m a sucker for any story that centers around a group of borderline abnormally close friends.

Irene is the first of the group we meet. Estranged from her family, she works in an art gallery & studied her way through the arts by sitting in on lectures. Her best friend, Sara, is unhappy in her fluff editing job, but has the unique talent of being an social butterfly who never forgets a face or a name. Sara has been dating George for years, & although George has a bit of an alcohol problem, he works at a highly intelligent job observing galactic activity. Jacob is my favorite character, almost like the child of the other three. A poet by night, with an odd job in the day. & finally William, who knows of the group, but only starts to befriend them where we pick up at the beginning. They’ve graduated, but are in that happy zone before “real life” starts really clicking in. Kind of where I’m at right now.

Here is where I insert the cheesy part about NYC being the sixth character. & blah blah blah. But I love NYC novels. This is one of the better ones because instead of just rambling on & on about how beautiful & great it is, it describes the feeling of absolutely despising it. The desire to pack up & move like so many of your friends have. The need to get away, just for the weekend, to some place with a beach, or grass, or anything but metal. I was able to relate to so many scenes, that when I felt I couldn’t relate I was bummed. Such as the vibe I get that attributes this love of the city in relation with being young. Something you outgrow, & eventually move away from. But it made sense with these characters who came here in their twenties. I’m sure older readers will be able to feel the nostalgia.

I’ve read a lot of those stories that focus in on close friends. But the majority of these stories entail one of the friends being murdered, usually by one or many of the others in the group. It’s always romanticized, sometimes suspenseful. The characters are quirky, but a little bit stereotypical. I’m thinking about books like The Basic Eight, The Secret History, We Were Liars, etc.

This isn’t like those at all. The characters are well developed. The threat isn’t an outlandish murdering plot. Instead, one of the friends has cancer. Which is especially upsetting because we’ve just learned to love this core group & also because they’re so young.

I laughed, I cried. I reread bits. One of my favorites is a scene where Jacob carries Irene out of the Met & a crowd gathers thinking they’re married. Another is where we learn what Jacob wanted to be when he grew older & where he lives while the novel’s events are taking place.

The book strikes a good balance between being funny & solemn. After the first chapter, you get the sort of feeling that the weekend’s over & it’s time to go back to reality. From that point on it’s day to day life until a climax about half of the way through. I don’t want to spoil much, but I loved the way this was all handled. The Generation Y, or whatever we’re supposed to be, mentality of being “special” is a common theme that fits well with the topics the story is tackling. I feel some people may think that the second part drags on a bit, but the pacing is just different because it’s the aftermath now.

They’ll probably go down as some of my favorite characters I’ve read. We get a beautiful section of a few lives that have the luck to intersect at a time most people consider to be the best years of life. Plus it’s set in my favorite place in the entire world. #BornAndRaised #NeverLeaving

EDIT: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about heroic death narratives & what it means to us as readers when we face the reality of dying, especially dying young. I think this novel offers a new & perhaps more nuanced view of the classic heroic death narrative & would love to hear anybody else’s thoughts!

I received this book from Penguin Group Viking in exchange for review. It’ll be released February 16, 2016. Mark your TBRs!

He’s also going to be at my old intern stomping grounds! I’ll be there & maybe we can meet 🙂 The Center for Fiction on March 1st. You can see the full list of events here.


Me with the title page on my kindle, outside Mount Sinai Beth Israel (fun fact: my health care physicians are almost all in Mount Sinai in Union Square, so I was extra emotional reading certain scenes while in the waiting room for a check up)

“‘I’ve recently begun listening to my whole hip-hop collection again,’ ‘Grandmaster Flash is a whole different experience on vinyl.'”

I swear, I’ve had that actual sentence spoken to me at a bar in Williamsburg one night.

“when he approached the man and asked for four bottles of Chardonnary made from ‘bluegrass, hogwash, and fairy wings.'”

I love the vineyard trip.

“‘It’s no big deal,’ ‘It’s not like I have to be drunk all the time. It just makes me happier when I’m already happy, you know?'”

& understand the need for alcohol.

“Before long everyone else fell asleep and seemed so peaceful. George drove on. It occurred to him that everything he was experiencing now, they were missing. Sadness waited for them, just past the edge of their dreams, patient for hours yet to come, just as his own sadness seemed to hover just beyond the magnificent afterglow of the wine.”

& more alcohol.

“Hilarity isn’t a cerebral thing, Oliver. You can’t wryly observe hilarity.”

Jacob’s one liners are great, but his full on rants are even better.

“The seas are full of forgotten monsters, yes, but they’re full of forgotten glories too. And the people who stay home and sit out the war never get to see them.”

Speaking as somebody who named their dog Odysseus, I love all the Homer references.

Okay, one more..

“Literature is really just the documentation of human struggling.”

Also check out the playlist that is currently being updated until the next review.



6 thoughts on “Why We Came To The City by Kristopher Jansma

  1. This sounds really, really good. I don’t think I’ve read any book set in New York that’s about despising it — it always seems like a love letter. I think it would be really interesting to read a different point of view. Plus, I really can’t resist a book that could make me cry. (I’m weird, I know.) PS. I really love the photos in your review!

    Liked by 1 person

    • This definitely shows the infatuation with Manhattan, but it also gives this feeling like there’s so much about it that kind of takes something away from you & gets harder to deal with as you get older. You’re not weird! Me too. It made me sob 😦 I’m such a mush. Thank you! They were taken while telling my friend to “slow down! Slow down!” while driving, obviously holding up the notorious safe New York driving…haha


    • There’s so many but there’s no way to narrow the type I want! Those like super close group of friends where the families are basically nonexistent haha, so I know the struggle. This is definitely a good one. That first chapter is honestly amazing

      Liked by 1 person

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