Book: If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin, Sourcebooks Fire, April 2013
Book Info: YA Contemporary, borrowed library e-book, paperback 338 pages.
About the Book:
If he had been with me, he wouldn’t have died.
Throughout their whole childhood, Finn and Autumn were inseparable–they finished each other’s sentences, they knew just what to say when the other person was hurting. But one incident in middle school puts them in separate social worlds come high school, and Autumn has been happily dating James for the last 2 years. But she’s always wondered what if…
The night she’s about to get the answer is also one of terrible tragedy.
Oh goodness this is a heart-wrenching read. You know what you’re getting into when you read the synopsis, but still you can’t help but hope for an alternate ending. This book is about once-inseparable friends that have a falling out. They still see each other since their mom’s are best friends and like family, but it’s not the same. Autumn wonders “what if” about the choices she made regarding Finn.
The story takes place over Autumn’s four years in high school. Phineas/Finny/Finn hangs out with the popular crowd, while Autumn finds a home with a group of misfits. Autumn is bright and loves to read books and write her own stories, and she’s also a little quirky and likes to wear tiara’s everyday. She has a boyfriend, Jamie, and they plan to stay together forever. Finny is a shy, jock type involved with Sylvie, and his path doesn’t cross with Autumn’s much.
As Autumn feels disenchanted with her relationship with Jamie she starts wishing things were different with Finn. Once that door is open, it feels like old times- but can you ever really go back?
In the narrative you learn right away that there’s a sad twist, and that puts a dark cloud over the reading experience. And as you fall in love with the characters, it makes it even harder to accept the inevitable. Laura Nowlin’s lovely prose draws you in and evokes a mood that you can get lost in.
Since the book covers all of high school you get a realistic look at friendships and relationships and how they change over time. We especially get to know Autumn’s friends and see them through several life changes, and always in the background is Finny. Autumn and Finny live with their mom’s (The Mothers) and I especially liked their friendship and makeshift family.
In addition to the high school relationships, we see Autumn and Finny’s family life challenges, including dad’s that come and go, and the depression that plagues Autumn and her mom. The author makes the characters’ sadness feel real, in terms of coping methods, friends’ response, and behavior.
Autumn and Finny’s story is sad but there are bright and hopeful parts that keep the book from being too heavy. Their relationship slowly builds and sneaks up on you, leaving you aching for more. I would recommend this book to readers that are drawn to tragic sorts of stories; I don’t think you’ll regret picking it up.
If He Had Been With Me is a YA Fiction Cybils nominee.