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

Magan: If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin

Book Review of If He Had Been With Me by Laura NowlinIf He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin <website | twitter>
Publication Date: April 1, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Pages: 336
Target audience: Young Adult
Keywords: boy next door, childhood best friends, friends growing apart, tragic love story
Format read: ARC received via NetGalley (Thank you!)

Summary: Autumn and Finn are next door neighbors; they’ve always been best friends — experiencing everything together since their mothers are also best friends. Once they reach high school, these once inseparable friends are distant and barely speaking. Though they aren’t close anymore, Autumn still finds herself knowing exactly where Finn is in a room and watching him from afar — in love with him, even if it takes her a while to admit it.

So there’s a girl (Autumn) who lives next to a boy (Phineas, or Finn for short). They were born mere weeks apart and their mothers are best friends. They have dinners together, alternate celebrating holidays at each others’ houses, and know practically every detail about the other person. From Autumn’s point of view (from which If He Had Been With Me is told), we see Finn as a strong, popular, kind, slightly geeky but athletically talented boy. Autumn is his opposite in nearly every way. She’s not popular and stands out amongst the crowd for experimenting with her hair color, dressing a bit oddly, and wearing a tiara as an every day accessory. She’s a misfit.

Somewhere along the way (oh, about the end of middle school) these two inseparable friends grow apart. As they enter high school, their lives still intermingle because their family traditions and weekly dinners continue, but they timidly orbit around one another. Finn and Autumn make independent groups of friends and they rarely talk with the same ease and candor they had been able to. By all appearances, these two friends seem to have drifted apart.

But from Autumn’s perspective, we see how she still yearns for him to do well, silently cheering him on, and how she’s jealous when Finn begins dating someone (even though she, too, is in a relationship). Every piece of their history is so intertwined that I couldn’t help but root them on. I wanted these two best friends to make their way back to one another and fall in love, despite knowing from the very beginning how their story would end — quite tragically.

I promise I’m not ruining any surprises by sharing that Phineas dies in the opening pages of If He Had Been With Me (even the Goodreads summary shares this in the first sentence). Then we hop, skip, and jump back in time to meet these two characters as babies and their history unfolds. I was a bit concerned because I didn’t want what I knew happened to Finn to actually happen, but let me tell you friends, Laura Nowlin absolutely blew me away with her amazing storytelling, character development, and rich settings.

Time and again, I feel let down by YA books because parents are absent in stories (but not here, even if Autumn’s parents have some marital issues they need to work through). Or because heavy issue books seem to dissuade cautious readers from picking up the book (but not here, because even though depression is present and very much plays a role in the story, Nowlin worked it into the story in a way that made me reflect and think, “OH! How clever!” instead of “Oh, I know where this is going…”). And sometimes I’m frustrated because it’s just so hard to connect with characters because I don’t know anything about them and their decisions make zero sense to me because of that (but again, that doesn’t happen here because I felt like I knew absolutely every detail, thought, and memory of these characters).

And the writing. Oh, the writing. So perfect and poetic. I felt like I was reading snippets of Autumn’s personal journal and I couldn’t put it down. Despite that I knew there was a *Romeo and Juliet-esque / tragic love story ending, I couldn’t help but allow myself to be swept away by Autumn and Finn’s story. There really wasn’t anything that I didn’t love, though oddly enough, I was maybe a little caught off guard by the ending. I’m not spoiling anything, but I was surprised by how I thought I knew what was coming and Nowlin still threw in a few punches at the end that left me blink, blink, blinking at my kindle screen. (So be prepared!)

I enjoyed If He had Been With Me so much that I’m adding Laura Nowlin to my auto-read list. Her writing, you guys, is just that sublime. Definitely take a chance on this story — allow yourselves to be caught up in Autumn and Finn’s lives and to root for two childhood best friends to fall in love.

*Please note: I don’t mean to imply that this is a Romeo and Juliet retelling, but I’m merely comparing the stories because even though we know how R & J’s tragic story ends, we still love and appreciate the story for all it’s complexity, beautiful writing, and passion — much in the same way I felt about If He Had Been With Me. Don’t make any assumptions about IHHBWM’s plot, storyline, etc. because of my comparison.

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21 thoughts on “Magan: If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin

  1. April Books & Wine says:

    Lawddddd, I am so broke right now BUT I WANT IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME because of your review, Magan. Sigh, I swear I am going to spend all of the money and it’s going to be Rather Be Reading’s fault — first with Julep, now with this, hahahaha.

    But seriously, If He Had Been With Me sounds tragic and well written and emotional and great.

  2. Kelley (Another Novel Read) says:

    Wow, great review! I had been shying away from this book, but after reading your review, I think I want to read the book now. It sounds like a very different book, and if the writing is that amazing, then I definitely don’t want to miss out. This one’s going on my to-read list. πŸ™‚

  3. Kelly says:

    I hadn’t really given this one a good look until I caught a glimpse at your review; I love that feeling of knowing the ending, but hoping for a different outcome anyways!

  4. Alexa Y. says:

    Okay, this sounds like a book that I absolutely MUST read. There’s something particularly poignant about the fact that they were childhood friends, and that he passed away before things could happen. I can’t wait to check it out!

  5. leoni says:

    Sounds interesting although I’m not the biggest fan of going backwards in time in books, looks like there are lots of other positives though!

  6. Courtney @ Courtney Reads A Lot says:

    This definitely sounds like a worthwhile read. I’m so happy you enjoyed this. Before I read your review, I had only vaguely heard of this book, but I am now anxious to read it. It sounds like a heartbreaking, emotional read but also a lovely one. Fantastic review! πŸ™‚

    • Magan says:

      Courtney, I agree with you — I haven’t seen many reviews for it yet, so I had no preconceived notions about what to expect going in. It was so, so great. I can’t wait for you to read it, too! πŸ™‚

      Leoni, please don’t let the going backwards deter you from reading this book. I prefer, actually, that I knew where things were going instead of being shocked by something really big and tragic happening at the end. I think that if I hadn’t had a glimpse of an idea, I would have felt it was too contrived or over the top.

      Alexa, I AGREE! Childhood friends! I loved it — their history was just so perfect to me. I liked how their moms still forced them to do things together even though they could tell they weren’t best friends anymore and had no idea what had separated them. READ IT SOON!

      Kelly, I loved that feeling too. When I read Rebecca Serle’s book When You Were Mine, I felt the same way. I knew it was a Romeo & Juliet retelling, but I wanted another end anyway because I loved the character’s story so much.

      Kelley, thank you! Don’t shy away from this book! Don’t! You’ll be missing out! You won’t be let down by Laura’s amazing writing. Promise!

      April, if your world is full of good books and pretty nail polish because of something I said, then YAAAAAAAY. I can’t be sorry! Read this book. For real. πŸ™‚ It is exactly all of the things you said.

      Maggie — YAY! READ IT READ IT READ IT! I hope you love it, too!

  7. Rachel says:

    I had never heard of this book until seeing your review but I am definitely adding it to my TBR list! I’ve read a couple books where the “end” is revealed in the beginning and like you, I hope for something different. I’m really curious to see how the author still manages to surprise you! Great review πŸ™‚

  8. Kailia @ Reading the Best of the Best says:

    This kind of breaks my heart becuase I LOVE the idea of childhood friends getting together but to know that Finn dies is sad. I honesty hadn’t heard much about this one so I’m glad I came across your review! I love how you “love and appreciate the story for all itÒ€ℒs complexity, beautiful writing, and passion” because that is what I want from a book too!

  9. Hannah @ So Obsessed With says:

    Oh this sounds really good! I love that you mention that the writing is poetic! That really makes me want to pick up this book. I also like the idea of their friendship and am really intrigued about the concept of basically knowing how it ends and then going back to the beginning and working your way forward!

  10. Mary says:

    I just finished this book and absolutely loved it and couldn’t put it down, but I don’t understand how Finn died? could someone explain that to me? he seemed fine and the. it said he was dead, I though only Sylvia was?

  11. Caity P. says:

    the book was so good but also really forshadowing. for example, in the book she always makes her books have a tragic ending and jamie ALWAYS hangs out with sasha it was bound to all come around. what really got me questioning the book is if sylvie died and if so, how? it says she was fine but i didnt really understand… such a great book and the amount of cliches and twists really evened out the books predictability.

    • Magan says:

      Caity, I completely agree. Loved the foreshadowing and knowing what was to come, but … I also dreaded it. Such a well-written, lovely book! So glad you enjoyed it, too! xo

  12. Ava .C says:

    I am currently reading this book. This may sound silly but I am one of those people that needs to know all details while reading so I can help picture it in my head. I am wondering how old is Autumn and her friends in the beginning of the book?

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