Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Publication date: April 1st 2013.
My rating: 5 stars
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.
If He Had Been With Me was a poignant story which I devoured in one sitting. It’s a story which deals with issues of friendship, first loves and family in the most raw and intense way I have come across in a long time. It was a story which I knew how would end, but I was utterly mesmerised into reading because of the beautiful heart rendering prose.
The story opens with the most heart breaking chapter, it gives you an insight into how things end. Despite knowing this I continually tried to bury this awful fact at the back of my mind, I kept trying to make myself believe that the author would change the course of the story and that maybe she was just playing with us. So it came as no surprise that when the ending did finally come, I found myself choked up all over again.
If He Had Been With Me deals with the story of what ifs. Autumn and Finn had been best friends forever, they did everything together, until middle school, that they fell apart for some reason or another. Despite their mothers being best friends, and being neighbours, there was always that awkward tension between them when they spent “family time” together. Also they hung out with friends who were on opposite sides of the spectrum to one another, so were seen to never mix or interact with one another. Despite having a great set of friends and boyfriend in Jamie, Autumn’s regret over the loss of her friendship with Finn is clearly apparent. At first it’s like a niggling at the back of her mind, which she continues to throw away and just focus on the good things happening in her life at the moment, but the further she goes through school and seeing Finn all the time bring several feelings of anger, betrayal, love, and loneliness which are continuously eating away at her until it all becomes too much. What would have happened if Autumn and Finn didn’t grow apart? Would things have been different now? It’s these constant thoughts that Autumn can’t shut away.
The Story is told with flash backs into Autumn’s and Finn’s memories when they were younger alongside Autumn’s current progression in school, some readers may find confusing. But I thought these alternating changes in the time span worked wonderfully. The stories were timed right as to show their significance into why that memory had a specific impact to why Autumn was the way she was today. It gave a better understanding into Autumn’s character, and a connection between her in a deep and meaningful way. Some readers may have got frustrated with Autumn’s decisions, but if I were in her shoes I don’t think I would have done it any other way. She had to battle through a lot in this story, and I think she dealt with it the best way she could.
Nowlin focused on many dark and tough issues in this story, issues of depression, family problems and loneliness were explored in depth. What made these issues more realistic was that they weren’t just touched upon once, but they were followed upon Autumn’s progression through school and clearly showed an important part of the type of person Autumn became. I liked how despite their differences Finn was the one who could constantly ground Autumn, the one she could turn to when she needed the most. Her friends were also a supportive bunch, and I enjoyed the fun they had and the time they spent together, but one particular point which I didn’t expect at all, blemished my high opinion I held of some of them.
If you’re worried about giving this book a try because of the heart breaking story please don’t because Nowlin’s gorgeous prose is not one to be missed. Her writing was littered with several beautiful passages and was delicate yet purposeful with each word puncturing a hole in my heart. Despite being a complete mess a few days afterwards and constantly asking myself how and why Nowlin would do this to me. I am sure that He Had Been With Me will remain as one of my favourites reads for a long time to come.
My feelings for this book are perfectly summed up by this gorgeous quote:
“This book is a treasure; I did not suspect it would be so good when I picked it up, but now I can feel the printed words seeping through my skin and into my veins, rushing to my heart and marking it forever. I want to savour this wonder, this happening of a loving book and reading it for the first time, because the first time is always the best, and I will never read this book for the first time again”