Saturday, April 6, 2013

If He Had Been With me by Laura Nowlin

Throughout their whole childhood, Finny and Autumn were inseperable - 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 always wondered what if...

The night she's about to get the answer is also one of terrible tragedy. 

It has been a long time since I have fallen so hard for a contemporary YA novel. I have barely heard of any buzz surrounding Laura Nowlin's debut. I ordered it on a whim, not really sure what to expect. I liked the cover, the premise sounded like my kind of thing and I always like the chase of finding a YA book free of preconceived hopes and praise. 

I was unprepared for just how good this book is, easily my favourite YA book of the year so far and it now sits on my favourites shelf.

Nowlin is a born storyteller. And this book differs from other YA books as it spans over three years of Autumn's life (told in the present, but it also encapsulated much more than that with memories and flashbacks). I love the time span of this novel, it stretched ahead of me and wrapped itself around me and I was entirely absorbed into Autumn's world.

This is a YA coming-of-age love story, but not in that swoony, predictable way. It hit me harder than a just the regular dreamy smile for the hot guy next door (and Finny is a hot boy living next door): I felt it right through to my stomach and to my chest constricting as I watched August and Finny together. The things left unsaid, the memories swirling around them, hope's dashed, future's uncertain. 

Nowlin so perfectly captures that teen voice: the misunderstandings between teenagers, the things unsaid, the dreams, the doubts, the wildly good times and also snatches of depression. I love Autumn as she felt so real. no aspect of her was gimmicky. She was fully nuanced, so gorgeous and bold and different without ever falling into a YA cliché and I loved seeing the world from her eyes. She was the perfect blend of confident and unsure. Nothing was black and white: I loved all the shades of grey in her feelings and everything that was going on in her world. I loved her for her fairytale hopes all mashed up with trying to face reality. For her love of reading and her uncompromising stance on who she was, even as she was trying to figure out the very same thing. 

And, oh, how I love the history of her relationship with Finny. There are a lot of flashbacks and memories and I never grew tired of it. I felt included in their lives. Finny himself is now one of my most favourite YA boys, not just as a gorgeous love interest, but for who he was. 

If He Had Been With Me has it's own unique vibe. The prose sometimes has it's own jaunty little rhythm, other times passages are so so poignant and heartfelt that my chest constricted. The writing was deeply personal, holding nothing back. 

With such a lush scope of three years plus, Nowlin explores so many experiences: friendships, cliques, first love, divorce, mental health, sex, all those gorgeous moments caught between the mystery and promise of adulthood looming ahead while thinking back on childhood. 

The thing about this book is it just kept getting better and better. For me, it was like meeting a new friend, and liking them, and then getting to know them until they become one of those lifelong besties that you cannot imagine life without. I liked Autumn so much from the outset, but she grew on me, exponentially so, as did her friends, her mum (and aunty) and, of course, Finny and now I just have this love for them and I know I won't ever be forgetting this gorgeous, beautiful and achey story. 

For discussion: I would have preferred the book without the prologue chapter. The writing itself pulled me into the story, that and the promise of what was to come - I did not need such a dramatic hook. I also am not a fan of the blurb that's on GR. I think it changes the reading experience (luckily, I did not read the blurb on that site - which is also used on most bloggers review posts, amazon, etc - and only read the back cover of the book). The ending felt rushed, then abrupt. I think I needed a tiny bit longer to linger in the story, to make sense of it all, but I understand what Nowlin was trying to do. 

I can't stop thinking about this story. I am crazily excited to fall this hard for a debut author and cannot wait to read more of Nowlin's work (understatement). I have a new absolute favourite book, so much passages bookmarked. I have so much love for this book and hope it falls into many hands. I envy those readers their first time reading experience waiting before them. LOVE

(Confession: I stayed up until 4.30am to finish this one. My only regret is it's already over...)

Perfect Theme Song: The Special Two by Missy Higgins (love this song so much, love Autumn and Finny)


13 comments:

  1. Okay, after that rave I have to read it. Just ordered it!

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  2. I hadn't heard anything about this either
    Is it an Aussie author?
    It sounds like a good book though, I like the idea of the three year span of the story

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  3. I just read another really positive review of this so I added it to my to-read list and to my buy-while-in-America list but that's not until May and your review makes me want to read this NOW! I might cave and buy the Kindle version ;)

    I love an author who can really convey a realistic teen personality voice and the fact that you stayed up so late to read makes me know this will be amazing!

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  4. Oh Nomes, what a wonderful review. Something that comes this highly recommended from you is a must read!

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  5. This was one of my WoW picks a while back so I'm glad to see it gets such a glowing review from you! I thought the premise sounded promising, like it could be a really emotionally powerful read and it sounds from your review like it totally delivers on that. For a debut novel in particular, that's impressive!

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  6. YAY Nomes! I was hoping you'd fall hard and fast for this just like I did. It was such a raw and honest read, which spoke volumes! I can't believe this is Nowlin's debut either, I can't wait to read more from this wonderful author! Lovely review! :)

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  7. You sold me, I've just ordered it! Gorgeous review and I'm glad you had such a great reading experience.

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  8. This is such a brilliant review, Nomes! I'm thrilled to read how AMAZING this book was for you- it was such fun to read how awesome it was for you! I don't think it quite sounds like I would enjoy it, from the synopsis, and even after this amazing review I don't think I'll be adding it to my already far too large to-read list.

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  9. Okay, now I REALLY want to read this...
    Is the blue synopsis from the back cover or is it your own? And if it's yours, do you mind if I use it for my wish list on my blog?

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    1. the synopsis i have on here is from the back cover of the book :) x i hope you manage to find a copy!

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    2. Oh, I've already put it in my next order! :) Thank you!

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  10. I fell in love with this book! Great read!

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Thanks for the commenty love <3