Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book Review: Where She Went

Where She Went is the sequel to Gayle Forman's hauntingly beautiful If I Stay.  In If I Stay, readers follow Mia Hall as she experiences a horrific car crash that kills her parents and younger brother and then hovers between life and death herself.  Ultimately, an impassioned plea from her boyfriend Adam convinces her to "stay," and the novel ends with her first flicker of consciousness.

Where She Went picks up three years later and is told from Adam's point of view.  From an outsider's point of view, Adam's dreams have come true.  His band, Shooting Star, has become wildly successful.  They've just released their second album and are about to depart on a European tour to promote it.  He can't show his face in public without being mobbed.  He's half of a celebrity couple, dating well-known movie star Bryn Shraeder.  He seems to have achieved the life he's always dreamed of.

But the story is told from Adam's point of view, so all the reader can see is his misery.  His relationships with his bandmates have deteriorated so far that he can barely stand to be in the same room as them anymore.  He takes anxiety pills like candy and smokes heavily, but neither does much to calm him.  Reporters are constantly on "bump watch," asking him when he and Bryn will have a baby.

And maybe some of that would be palatable, if it weren't for the deep, raw hurt that has never healed, the one that inspired the angry, pained songs of the album "Collateral Damage" in the first place.  It all comes back to Mia.  Yes, she lived.  Against all odds, she recovered from the accident that killed her family.  And then she left for Julliard in the fall.  And she never came back.  She cut Adam loose and never contacted him again.  And he can't forget it, can't forgive her, can't heal from it, can't get past it, no matter what he does.

And then, just when everything seems at its bleakest, Adam looks up from a New York City street and sees Mia's eyes staring down at him from a billboard.  She's playing in Carnegie Hall.  Feeling that it's fate, he buys a ticket.  This begins their one night of reconnection, a chance for him to discover "where she went" before the future closes in..... because the very next day, he's slated to fly to London to start his tour, and she's scheduled to fly to Japan for a tour of her own.  One night to catch up, to discover what went wrong, to learn if maybe they can forgive each other....

Even though it's written in the hard voice of a rocker, Where She Went is every bit as beautiful as If I Stay.  Unlike Mia's story, this book is not guaranteed to be sadness from beginning to end.  Although If I Stay was the one to originally make it onto the New York Times bestseller list, I would actually argue that Where She Went is the better book--though it does need the first one to set the stage.  Don't miss this two-book combo--Adam and Mia's stories wind together beautifully, and their distinct voices add a wonderful layer of richness to Forman's narration.  Not to be missed!

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