Where She Went
Doubleday Children's 2011
Where She Went is the follow up novel to last year's If I Stay (review here). This review contains spoilers for If I Stay so please, er, don't stay if you haven't read the first book.
Adam is living the dream. He's a successful rock star, has a stunning girlfriend and travels the world surrounded by his band mates and hoards of adoring fans. His music is critically acclaimed, his lyrics speak to thousands and he's basically where he always thought he wanted to be. So why does he find himself alone in New York, chucking back beer and anxiety medication? Why, indeed. The truth lies in a promise he made three years ago, to a girl whom he wasn't entirely sure was listening. Turns out she was listening, she remembered his promise and eventually, she took him at his word.
Where She Went takes place three years on from the phenomenally successful, not to mention powerfully written, If I Stay. Rather than stay with Mia, accident victim and erstwhile out-of-body experiencee, author Gayle Forman has switched her protagonist and readers find themselves following the rather changed Adam – Mia's former boyfriend turned tortured superstar. And boy, is Adam tortured. When we meet him again, he's twenty-one and floundering in a world that no longer seems to hold any meaning for him. Clearly depressed, he's isolated himself from his family, from his band mates and from the world at large, limiting himself to stage appearances and surly interviews as the only real touchstones in his rapidly darkening world. Even his relationship with a Hollywood starlet seems to only highlight his depression and at the beginning of the novel his future seems bleak. And short.
Inevitably, it transpires that the reason for Adam's misery is Mia who shortly after her recovery upped sticks to Julliard and broke off all contact. While Adam has honoured her decision, he hasn't actually coped with it. At first he channelled everything into his music but now even the music seems to be dragging him down and his spiral into depression, anxiety is entirely believable and entirely understandable. When he then comes across Mia in New York, his fumbling reactions, bitter responses and disbelief at her attempts at small talk are incredibly hard to read – every single actions seems laced through with pain and betrayal. Despite knowing Mia's own sad story, it is hard to watch the effect her actions, not to mention the accident prior to them, have had on Adam. He's not always likeable and certainly hasn't made particularly good choices, but his spiralling grief and desperation for the answers he absolutely deserves make Adam as compelling a character in Where She Went as Mia was in If I Stay.
Mia herself is largely seen through the rather cracked lens of Adam's perception, yet the constancy of her character surprised me. Even while reading from an opposing point of view, Mia is entirely as recognisable in her new guise as a healthy adult as she was as a bed-ridden teenager. It would be easy to dislike her, at points she's extremely unsympathetic but in the end Mia is written as a survivor and it's impossible not to admire her strength in doing what was right for her and for her alone. Certainly her actions with regards to Adam weren't particularly fair, but they were always going to be understandable.
Where She Went is a very different book from If I Stay but it is just as beautifully written, with Adam's narrative creating not just an entirely new story but also a different view of the events during and prior to If I Stay. Forman again uses flashbacks to look at both Adam and Mia's life before her accident and during her stay in hospital. The flashbacks and modern day narrative culminate in a scene on a bridge that is no less than stunning and the build up to (and fall out from) this pivotal moment are beautifully written. The only sections of the book that perhaps fall a little short of it's predecessor are the references to Adam's band, and particularly the lyrics that pepper this title. In fact, all references to the contemporary music scene seem a little forced and the lyrics are, in some places, a bit trite.
It could be argued that If I Stay required no sequel, but Where She Went should silence any naysayers as Gayle Forman has skilfully added to her original story to the point where it's hard to imagine one without the other. This title completes Mia's story as much as it tells Adam's and is at once a careful study of a very real relationship and an essay on the catastrophic effects of grief on the individual. With both books, Gayle Forman has certainly marked herself as a writer to watch in the future.
Where She Went is available now. Thank you to Emma from Asamum Booktopia for giving me a copy of this book.