{Review} IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME by Laura Nowlin

Check out today's guest post with author Laura Nowlin to see 
who she'd cast in a movie adaptation of IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME!

O P E N I N G   L I N E:

I WASN'T WITH FINNY ON THAT AUGUST NIGHT, but my imagination has burned the scene in my mind so that it feels like a memory.

It was raining, of course, and with his girlfriend, Sylvie Whitehouse, he glided through the rain in the red car his father had given him on his sixteenth birthday.  In a few weeks, Finny would be turning nineteen.

They were arguing.  no one ever says what they were arguing about.  It is, in other people's opinions, not important to the story.  What they do not know is that there is another story.  The story lurking underneath and in between the facts of the one they can see.  What they do not know, the cause of the argument, is crucial to the story of me. 

I can see it--the rain-slicked road and the flashing lights of ambulance and police cars cutting through the darkness of night, warning those passing by: catastrophe has struck here, please drive slowly.  I see Sylvie sitting sideways out of the back of the policeman's car, her feet drumming on the wet pavement as she talks.  I cannot hear her, but I see Sylvie tell them teh cause of the argument, and I know, I know, I know, I know.  If he had been with me, everything would have been different. 
(pg. 6, US e-book edition)

If the title and somber cover of IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME don't give it away, the summary and the first chapter of the book (See hook, above) surely will: This isn't a straightforward happy story.  The novel encompasses a range of emotions.  If you're looking for a light-hearted read, this isn't the title for you right now.  If you want something that resonates and makes you think after you've turned the last page, however, it may be the perfect choice.

So much about IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME will resonate with readers.  It centers around Autumn and Finn, two next-door-neighbors who have known one another since they were still in the womb.  As children, they were the best of friends, completely inseparable.  They grow apart in middle school as Autumn's popularity rises, then the reverse occurs in high school.  Autumn and Finn now only speak when their families get together--and since their mothers are best friends, they still see each other weekly.  Socially, however, they no longer understand one another's lives.  IF HE HAD BEEN WITH ME takes place over the course of four years as Autumn and Finn enter high school as freshmen and graduate as seniors.  The story's core centers around their interaction, the way they go from hot to cold, from barely speaking to standing up for one another as needed.  There are so many layers to their relationship, and readers will want to see these two former best friends repair bridges and burn the past.

It's incredibly hard to talk without spoilers.  There's an aura of mystery after reading the first chapter, and by the book's end, there are unexpected turns that will leave readers thinking after finishing the last page.  There are so many what-ifs, so many ways for things to go, and watching events shape themselves is something readers will want to re-read immediately after finishing the book for the first time.  It's easy to fall for Autumn, who is quirky and fun.  She dyes her hair, wears tiaras, and bites her nails, falling out of favor with the popular girls she ran with in middle school, but she also has great, genuine friends now.  She falls in with the other outcasts at school, and many readers will see themselves in her.   The bond of friendship that links Autumn's crowd together reminds me so much of the way characters interacted in Stephanie Perkins' amazing ANNA AND THE FRENCH KISS (my review); if you've read that, you know the level of friendship I'm talking about.  (And if not, that's your next reading assignment.  Yes, despite the title...and the cover...  Ready, go!) Friendship and fitting in (or not) is such an important part of high school, and the way Autumn balances this with all the history between her and Finn, not to mention her parents' crumbling marriage and a brush with depression, will really ensnare readers.  There's something about Laura Nowlin's writing that reaches out and touches the heart in unexpected ways.  It also has a more literary feel at times, perhaps because Autumn is a writer, and the way Nowlin meshes foreshadowing with Autumn's own quirks is a unique, captivating blend.  I don't know what I was expecting when I initially picked this one up, but it wasn't the level of depth I found myself encountering.  A strong debut from an author to watch!
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

The cover is very bittersweet, evoking emotion before the reader ever picks it up to look at the summary or read the first page.  I think it sets the mood perfectly.

I also like the quality of the photograph, from the tone of the model's skin to the dress color and knot of bracelets to the clarity of the rain.  It's a very good-looking image!

O F F I C I A L   I N F O:

Author: Laura Nowlin
Release Date: Out April 01, 2013
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Received: For Review

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 that 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. 

So let me tell you...