Book Review/Guest Post: If He Had Been With Me

Author Site:  Laura Nowlan
Genre: Young Adult -Fiction, Romance

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

If he had been with me, he wouldn’t have died.
Throughout their whole childhood, Finn and Autumn were inseparable—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 been happily dating James for the last 2 years. But she’s always wondered what if…
The night she’s about to get the answer is also one of terrible tragedy.


My Review:  So it is no surprise that this story ends in tragedy.  It’s evident from the first paragraph in the book.  When I said that I would read this book for review, somehow this important fact missed my notice.  Okay, it didn’t, the summary I read said there was a tragedy…but I guess it wasn’t exactly what I was thinking – despite even the title.  I’m so silly.

So after the first paragraph I was dreading my commitment to reading this book because I don’t like sad books; however after the first chapter, I was sucked in.  I read If He Had Been With Me in one day.  Very nearly in one sitting.  I simply could not stop reading.  Even knowing the end in the beginning, I was still so enamored with the characters and their relationships.  I could easily see how the relationships; mainly the relationship between Autumn and Finny (aka Finn, aka Phineas) would play out exactly as they did.  With Autumn and Finny being best friends from day one, practically family, surely things are going to eventually get in the way, and people start to grow apart – seemingly anyway.  Then there was the relationship between Autumn and her band of misfits, or was it Jamie and his band of Misfits – either way, it was like being sucked back into High School…at least in the way in which I got to watch instead of participate.
The book was written on a mostly staggered time-line.  There is a lot of present, near-past, way-past, present movement; but it felt almost seamless in the book.  There are a lot of books I’ve read where the time jumping was annoying and very hard to follow.  Here it seemed like a mostly clean straight line of thought.  I was never confused about what was going on, and actually enjoyed that we not only got to know Autumn and Finny in the present, but we got to watch them grow up as well.
While reading, I was very drawn to Autumn , and I think that is because I could see myself in her, almost 100% of the time.  I was kind of weird, and never really had a lot of friends; usually just one or two good friends while growing up.  I had an absent father who came around whenever he felt; although my parents were actually divorced.  And I am left handed too (because that’s important…;) ).  So, I felt like I could relate to Autumn.  She also just felt real, her feelings and emotions were true and mostly accurate.  I didn’t always agree with what she was doing, or how she was handling situations, and many times I felt like she was incredibly dense; but I felt like I knew her.  To me, this is good writing.  It’s what I look for in a book most of the time. 
I didn’t love everything about this book, however.  There were a few items and plots that didn’t sit well with me.  One, for instance, is Angela’s pregnancy and subsequent marriage…it really IS rare that someone would get pregnant the first time, even though it does happen.  It just seemed like a weak and unbelievable sub-plot.  Then it seemed to be glossed over and the consequences really aren’t displayed.  Another thing I wasn’t fond of, the end of the book was very abrupt.  Here we have a wonderful book filled with emotion and details, and then this really broken and jagged ending.  One that leaves us with nearly no hope, and then a glimmer of hope – but nothing really solid to grab on to. 
All-in-all, this book was pretty darn good all the way up until it’s inevitable ending.  I would recommend the book for older, mature teenagers though, as it deals with aspects and decision while growing up – sex, and drinking.  Absolutely nothing graphic or detailed – but it is there. 

And now, author Laura Nowlin shares with us her top ten things she would change about High School:

Ten Things I Wish I Could Change about my High School Years

1.      I wish smart phones had existed, and that I’d had one.

This seems frivolous, I know, but when I was in high school only the rich kids had cell phones at all, and wi-fi was a rare and wondrous thing. I can only imagine how cool it must be to get into hilarious hijinks with your friends, and be able to post pics of your shenanigans in real time. If we did something cool, we had to tell people about it later, and we probably didn’t have photographic proof, because pictures were these paper things you had to pay money to have made.

2.     I wish I had broken up with my boyfriend.

Now, my high school sweetheart was not a bad guy by any means, but looking back I see how I only dated him for my entire high school career because I liked the idea of only having one boyfriend ever. If I had really been following my heart, I would have admitted to myself that he wasn’t the one and only guy for me, and I could have possibly had a wider range of romantic experience.

3.     I wish I had broken more rules.

I was a good kid. A really, really good kid. Sometimes as an adult I wish I had some of the when-I-was-a-crazy-teen stories that other people have.

4.      I wish I had learned to drive.

In If He had Been with Me, Autumn manages to graduate high school without learning to drive. I managed to graduate from college and get married without a driver’s license. I let a small anxiety grow into a massive mental block, and I wonder what the ego-boost of conquering my fear would have done for teenage me.

5. I wish I had admitted to others that I needed help.

As an adult I have been diagnosed with clinical depression, but as a teenager I hid my depressive episodes from my loved ones. I can only imagine how different those years would have been if I would have admitted my to struggle  and gotten the help I needed.

6.      I wish I had worked harder in Spanish class, and gone to Spain on the class trip.

I ended up minoring in Spanish, but I never did get the experience of full immersion, and now my skills are so rusty that I’ll probably never be fluent.

7.      I wish our exchange student had lived with us all four years

Swantje lived with my family for ten months. She challenged and inspired me, and ultimately changed me forever. To this day I keep a picture of her by my writing desk.

8.      I wish I had cared less about what other people thought.

I think everyone feels this way about their high school years. At the time, I claimed that I didn’t care what others thought, but when I compare that to how much I really don’t care now…

9.      I wish I’d been less critical of my body

When I look at pictures of my teenage self, I just want to grab that girl by the shoulders and scream, “Your stomach IS  flat! It really is! And you are not appreciating how high your breast are! Your stomach is flat and your breasts are perky! Go put on a string bikini and feel fabulous! Right Now!

10.  I wish I had written more.

To be fair, I think this is something I will always say about any time in my life. I guess it’s nice to know that some things will never change.
What are some things that you would like to change about High School??

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