If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin
Published: April 2013 by Sourcebooks Fire
The Plot (Goodreads):
If he had been with me everything would have been different…
I wasn’t with Finn on that August night. But I should’ve been. It was raining, of course. And he and Sylvie were arguing as he drove down the slick road. No one ever says what they were arguing about. Other people think it’s not important. They do not know there is another story. The story that lurks between the facts. What they do not know—the cause of the argument—is crucial.
This book has been sitting in my to-read pile for months (or years?), so when I picked it up less than 24 hours ago, I didn’t reread a summary or look at the Goodreads tags. For some reason, I swore this was a thriller or mystery, and I didn’t realize it was YA. I haven’t read a traditional YA book in a few years, so my harsh rating is part having the wrong expectations (I really wanted a good twist and mystery!) and part being out of touch with the YA style. I still think this is a fair rating though for the following reasons:
The writing style was confusing. The book started as if I was reading a journal, and the references to “The Mothers” and “The Office”, etc. felt very much like a journal (though immature choices for a teenage writer). This didn’t mix well with Autumn’s character and it clearly isn’t a journal.
Second, the premise was disappointing. Getting away from my want for a twist, this book felt too predictable. It threw in a teenage pregnancy for fun and didn’t address the seriousness of that. I’m not looking for an educational or school-approved book, but the secondary characters just felt surface level and how it handled difficult topics (depression, suicidal ideation, pregnancy, etc.) just seemed haphazard. Additionally, the book takes place over 4 years, but the characters don’t seem to mature or grow much. I feel it would have made more sense to have the book take place over 2 years.
In general, I struggle to think about why I might recommend this book to someone. It’s a romance, but not a sickly-sweet one like many YA books. It’s got a lot of cliches, and they aren’t done in a new or fun way, they’re just predictable. Ultimately, this book felt like an early draft of what could be an interesting story.