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Monday, October 24, 2011

'Where She Went' by Gayle Forman

From the BLURB:

It’s been three years since Adam’s love saved Mia after the accident that annihilated life as she knew it . . . and three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Julliard’s rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia’s home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future—and each other.

Three years ago, Mia had a choice. Stay or go. Live or die. Him or them.

She chose to stay. But she didn’t choose him.

Three years ago Adam lost the girl he loved. It was a gradual losing, the petering out of a song, the gradual hush of harmony . . . until the day came that Mia got on a plane to NYC and Julliard, and never looked back. Never came back. Cut all ties.

Three years later and Adam is lead singer and songwriter for Shooting Star. He is labelled as the new Kurt Cobain, and his romance with Bryn is tabloid fodder and on high-alert baby-bump watch. Adam is about to start a 63-day European tour. And he couldn’t be more terrified or miserable.

It has been three years since they last saw each other . . . but a poster beckons and Adam finds himself at Carnegie Hall, listening to Mia play in her first major concert. Tomorrow she leaves for Japan. In a few hours he boards a plane to London. They have one night to make up for three lost years – a night to explore New York, and learn each other all over again.

‘Where She Went’ is the sequel to Gayle Forman’s heartbreaking success, ‘If I Stay’.

I went into this book weary. My heart still felt bruised and battered from ‘If I Stay’. . . reading the sequel’s blurb and knowing that Adam and Mia’s clear love from that first book didn’t end happily-ever-after was another kick-in-the-guts. I didn’t know if I could take reading this sequel, and being heaped with more sadness. But I, like many fans must have, found myself wanting to know what happened next . . . does love prevail? Is there a silver lining? Did Mia regret her decision? I will say that at the end of ‘Where She Went’ I wasn’t 100% convinced that Forman needed a sequel . . . but I was glad I read it.

As the title hints, ‘Where She Went’ is not told from Mia’s point of view. ‘If I Stay’ was all in Mia’s first-person narrative. As suggests the new third-person title ‘Where She Went’ is not Mia’s story, but Adam’s. The sequel is told this time from his first-person narration, and it’s not always a pretty perspective.

Adam got what he always wanted – fame. Rock stardom. The cover of Rolling Stone and Shuffle magazine. He got the groupies and now the famous girlfriend. But clichés are clichés for a reason, and fame is not all it’s cracked up to be. Adam is scared of crowded spaces after a mob incident. He is ostracized from his band mates for his rising star and tabloid popularity. And he has taken to popping pills to stop his hands from shaking. Adam knows where it all went wrong, and who he owes his fame to. Without Mia and the heartbreak she inflicted, Adam would have never written the album ‘Collateral Damage’ that catapulted Shooting Star into rock stardom. But to get there and write those lyrics, Adam had to have his heart ripped out by the only girl he ever loved. . .

Adam is pondering and panicking the band’s upcoming European tour when he decides, on a whim, to hear Mia play Carnegie Hall. A chance meeting has the two old flames reuniting for one night – a night to explore New York and remember each other. A night, perhaps, to right the wrongs of the past.

In ‘Where She Went’, Forman tries to adhere to the narrative structure of ‘If I Stay’, with varying results. In the first book Mia’s narrative flipped between watching her present-time battered body in a hospital room, and remembering moments of great import from her past. In the sequel, Adam is wandering around the Big Apple with Mia in present day, while also remembering his crash course of stardom and his crash and burn love with Mia after her accident. I thought the present-day Mia and Adam storyline was sublime. Pitch-perfect between heartbreak and redemption, hope and hurt. But the flashbacks didn’t work so much for me this time . . . they were crucial to ‘If I Stay’ – both for readers to understand the severity of Mia’s loss (and how hard it would be for her to stay) but also for her to realize all the reasons she has to hold on, and who she has to hold on to. By contrast, Adam’s flashbacks in ‘Went’ are squirm-inducing as he remembers countless one-night-stands with groupies and his first meeting Bryn at the MTV awards.

Whoever said that the past isn’t dead had it backward. It’s the future that’s already dead, already played out. This whole night has been a mistake. It’s not going to let me rewind. Or unmake the mistakes I've made. Or the promises I've made. Or have her back. Or have me back.

These flashbacks, while important to understanding Adam’s stardom, were just plain uncomfortable. Mostly because of Mia and Adam’s epic love story, set up beautifully in ‘If I Stay’. It’s hard to read Adam’s recounts and how much they sully what was so pure and perfect in the first novel – so that, as a reader, you feel somewhat betrayed to read of Adam’s heartless hook-ups with girls he can’t remember the names of. And especially his tabloid-followed relationship with movie star Bryn. It’s spine-shiveringly awkward to read these, and I was just happy that Forman balanced the awkward with Mia and Adam’s present-time romance.

In present-time we read how Mia has rebuilt her life in the wake of tragedy. It ignites readers with a certain chest-swelling pride to read how much Mia has progressed and overcome. We fell in love and heartache with her in ‘If I Stay’ – so it’s like proud parents that we read of her achievements in spite of heartache. And it’s with equally loving affection that we read Mia and Adam patch their past and heal old wounds . . .

I will say that I would have liked more focus on the setting of New York in this sequel. I think the city could have been a character unto itself in this book, but it felt a bit like a photo-shoot backdrop. Nothing especially unique or igniting about it. But, honestly, Mia and Adam’s rekindled romance kind of steals the show.

I’ll put a worry to rest for a few of you, and say that ‘Where She Went’ is romantic (*hint, hint, nudge, nudge*). I went into this with a wincing heart – concerned that I'd come out with more bruises inflicted by Forman. Fear not. This is a story of reconnection and forgiveness. It’s about the myriad of grief and how we deal, and don’t cope, with its ramifications. It’s the story of Mia and Adam, who had to go there to come back to each other.

There is a part of me that thinks ‘If I Stay’ should have been left untouched. It was literary perfection and didn’t need a sequel. I think of that old writing idiom, that says ‘leave the reader cold’ – leave them with a little bit of wanting, a smidge of read between the lines and make up your own mind. ‘Where She Went’ doesn’t do that – the sequel ties up loose ends and puts a definitive ending on Mia’s story . . . and I don’t necessarily think we needed that. That’s not to say I didn’t thoroughly enjoy ‘Where She Went’ (or appreciate Forman’s closure to Adam and Mia’s story). But there’s also a (fairly large) part of me that thinks ‘If I Stay’ was all the more powerful for being left on the precipice.



  1. You make me want to go out and read them now. BUT I understand the point you make about the need for a sequel when the first book is so good itself. I read Simone Elkeles' Leaving Paradise and really enjoyed it. I am too wary to read the sequel for fear that it will ruin book one for me.

    I get why authors write sequels (we readers hate an open ending) but many times, on reflection, the open ending is what the story needs.

  2. Fantastic review hon. I havent read book one or this one... but I can feel your heartbreak...
    Thanks for the great review!

    I totally undertand the whole "you should have let the story be" spiel LOL but I am a sucker for closures... so I would probably enjoy getting that hehe

  3. Wonderful review! I really liked both of the books but If I Stay was certainly more suspenseful.


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