Friday, April 12, 2013

Book Review: If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin

Title: If He Had Been With Me
Author: Laura Nowlin

Pages: 336
Published: April 01, 2013

Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire/Sourcebooks
Book Source: NetGalley
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars


If He Had Been With Me opens up to Autumn, our protagonist, thinking back to the fateful August night when her best friend Finny was involved in a tragic accident.
“They were arguing. No one ever says what they were arguing about. It is, in other people's opinions, not important to the story. What they do not know is that there is another story. The story lurking underneath and in between the facts of the one they can see. What they do not know, the cause of the argument, is crucial to the story of me.”
Then we backtrack to learn the story of Autumn and Phineas (aka Finny) from the very beginning.

Their mothers (aka “The Mothers”) have been best friends for a very long time. They were pregnant at the same time and had their children within a week of each other. Naturally, Autumn and Finny grew up together. The two were inseparable. Autumn was always the oddball at school, but she always had Finny to watch over her and defend her honor.

Until middle school. The two best friends grow apart after a misunderstanding that neither of them see (at the time) as a misunderstanding. While still in each others lives via family get-togethers with The Mothers, the two are merely cordial and polite—if anything, it's now an awkward not-quite-friendship. This continues through high school. Both teens are happily dating and have their separate social groups, etc.

But Autumn has never stopped thinking of the “what ifs”... After battling with herself over it for some time, the question that remains is this: Is it too late?

Can what's been done be undone? Can friendship be like riding a bicycle? Can these two make their lives fit together after all these years?

- - -

First of all, I have to stick with my very first thought after reading this book: Can I give this book a million stars? Because it SO deserves that and more! Where do I even begin? How can I even express how much this book touched me; effected me? It has been a very very very long time since a book has made me cry so hard. It's something that I crave in a book. I want to feel the words in my mind, heart, and soul. Laura Nowlin has created a story that did this and more. It left me a complete freaking wreck! I had to sit on this review for over two weeks. I couldn't put it into words, and frankly, I'm still having trouble. I just want to scream it from the rooftops. THIS BOOK IS AMAZING! IT WILL TAKE HOLD OF YOU FROM BEGINNING TO END!

Autumn and Finny. Oh, these two touched my heart so much! From the very start, their connection was tangible. Even when the two of them weren't really friends and didn't speak much, save perfunctory formalities. Through Autumn's first-person POV, we can see and feel their connection; their bond—a bond that transcends time.

Autumn is one of the best protagonists I've ever met. I adored her personality and adored reading through her. She is quirky and artistic. She thinks things that you'd never quite expect of a high school girl. She doesn't care that she's different; she embraces it. She takes it and makes it her own. I am also thoroughly impressed with the very REFRESHING fact that Nowlin made this girl confident! She knows she is pretty and says so. She doesn't constantly doubt what she has to give or what she looks like. She doesn't have to. She is an inspiration! I think everyone who reads this book will just fall madly in love with her.

Finny is someone we sort of see from afar. Through Autumn, we learn that he is slightly bashful, but has definite bold streak that rears it's head when needed. He's blonde, gorgeous, and a complete gentleman. He's also passionate, patient, and completely lovable. And love him I soooo did. Sigh.

Nowlin's top-notch character development didn't stop with just Autumn and Finny. Their family was fully developed as were their friends. This book had no disposable or pointless characters. Each one was distinctly part of the story, and I'm finding this to be a rarity these days. It almost seems too easy to whip up a Young Adult novel and get it published. Throw in a vampire or a werewolf, a stupid girl who doesn't care about her own safety, and whammo! You're in like Flynn. This book, this author, seem the opposite to me. You can tell that she poured her heart and soul; pieces of herself, into this novel. Her writing is spectacular. Her words are poetic. This book will become a part of you.

Now, from the blurb and the prologue of the novel, you already know a tragedy looms in the future. It's not something that surprises you. You know it's going to happen. Don't go into this book expecting your run-of-the-mill happy ending, because you won't get it. This book is real and it's raw. This isn't a paranormal tale where someone's beloved comes back from the dead, or even from the brink of death. It's inevitable, and you know this from the beginning. That being said, Nowlin was still able to stun me with the ending. I was still completely heartbroken and distraught when it happened. The whole book is meant to make you grow to love these characters, to become a part of their life, and it worked 100%. I was fully invested in the outcome of this book, and the events hit me hard. I bawled through the last bit of chapters. I was a snotty, teary mess. I'm sort of glad my husband wasn't home. Although I did call him immediately after I finished to blab about the book for a good thirty minutes. About how much it touched me and how much I loved it. He dutifully gave me consolation over the phone. :) Anyway, I can promise you that this book will stay with you for the rest of your life.
“I think we're supposed to experience as much beauty as we can.”

“[...] because sometimes sad things are beautiful,” I say. “Like when someone dies.”
All in all, I suppose it's needless to say that this book floored me. Heck, I'll say it anyway... IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME FLOORED ME! Nowlin has staggering characterization skills, and a true talent for creating unique characters for readers to fall in love with. The plot is paced to perfection and you'll be turning the pages 'til the wee hours of the morning. This is definitely one of those “Just one more chapter!” books. The author soundly explores the relationship dynamics between childhood friends going through the transition of dealing with hormones and feelings they've never experienced, to the delicate beginnings of love. She gives us an ending that surprises even though it was foretold. Clever plot twists were woven into the story from the very beginning, making the ending one that packs a whole lot of punch. It's beautiful. It's sad. It's heart-wrenching.

If you're looking for an emotionally-charged teen read, this is your book—hands down. Fans of YA Contemporary Romance, New Adult, or Coming of Age will also enjoy this book. It does touch on some rough subjects: teen pregnancy, underage drinking, suicide, sex, etc. It's done tastefully and with respect. Just do yourself a favor and go out and buy this book or pick it up at the library. Autumn and Finny's story is one that will stay with you forever and ever. Be warned, though! This book requires a bit of recovery time after you finish up. :)

~ 5 OF 5 STARS ~


Make sure to visit my blog tour stop (author guest post) for If He Had Been With Me here!