This was probably one of my most anticipated releases of 2011. I read and absolutely loved If I Stay late last year, coming pretty late to that party but for once I was glad to be behind the times! It was agonising reading If I Stay and knowing that yes, there was a sequel but no, it wasn’t out yet and wouldn’t be until around April.
Fast-forward three months and I’m holding Where She Went and dying to get stuck in. So let’s go!
It’s been more than three years since Mia chose to stay through the strength of the love she felt Adam giving to her, even though she’d just lost her whole family in one cruel moment. When this book opens up we’re with Adam’s narration and quite frankly, Adam is a mess. He is the front for the successful band Shooting Star who have enjoyed a meteoric rise to the top of the charts since their best-selling album Collateral Damage. It’s pretty evident to the reader right away that Adam is balanced on a precipice. He’s micro-managed, fed pills to keep him calm, chauffeured to interviews, babysat by varying forms of the band’s management and is clearly estranged from the rest of the band.
Adam and the band are in New York. They just played Madison Square Garden and Adam has a quick re-recording of some guitar for a tune that’s being remixed as an ‘exclusive internet track’ and an interview or two before he will fly out to London and begin a 60-something day tour. While in New York after an interview goes very wrong, he is wandering the streets when he sees that at he’s at Carnegie Hall, where there’s a performance about to take place tonight. To his shock, it’s Mia, who he hasn’t seen since she left for Julliard, over three years ago, that’s playing. Although Adam vaguely knows that Mia is gaining attention as some classical music wunderkind he has deliberately avoided seeking any information out about her. After being callously dumped by Mia, Adam was dysfunctional for nearly a year before he poured all his pain and emotion into what would become Collateral Damage.
Despite this, Adam buys a ticket and watches Mia play. And when he’s invited backstage by Mia after the event (as if Adam Wilde, front man of Shooting Star could ever go unnoticed in a small performance at Carnegie Hall) they will be forced to hash out all their issues, all the pain that was unresolved from Mia’s family’s accident and their abrupt break up. As Mia leads Adam on a tour around her favourite spots in New York city she will see that Adam’s life as a glamorous rock star is not all it looks from the outside and that he to is bearing some deep scars that only she can heal.
Has too much water gone under the bridge for Adam and Mia to find their way back to each other? After three years of no contact, with Mia healing slowly and Adam self-destructing, are they going to be at a place where they can both forgive and reconnect?
There’s no denying this is an emotional novel. It doesn’t have the huge punch of If I Stay because there’s no devastating tragedy. But anyone who has read If I Stay and seen, from Mia’s point of view, the love that she had for Adam and he for her, would wonder how they ever got to this point. Adam’s heartbreak after three years is what is defining him. It’s the motivation and inspiration behind the lyrics and music he penned that became the band’s first album, it’s also what is spiraling him downward into a self-destruction of depression and paranoia. A small time in the spotlight has clearly been enough for Adam, who can’t cope with the paparazzi’s interest in him and his actress girlfriend and he’s splintering relationships everywhere he goes. He’s not on speaking terms with any members of the band anymore and the only thing that saves him from being a total rockstar cliche is that he isn’t (yet) possessed of either an illegal drug or alcohol habit, preferring instead to pop anti-anxiety meds like they’re candy.
When Adam and Mia are face to face, it’s nice to see that it isn’t easy for them. There’s no joyful reunion, no deep and meaningful heart to heart where they both hold hands and cry. There’s anger and pain, from both sides, but there’s also an inability to walk away – and both of them try at least once. It seems that although they have been thrown together by fate, they are bound together by the past and the need to clear it. And there’s a lot to clear.
There are some wonderful moments between Adam and Mia in this book and there’s some amazing writing. With a couple whose past is already firmly established such as this one, as an author you have to tread cautiously when you tear what you have carefully constructed apart. You have to be very careful not to ruin one character, to apportion blame that cannot be forgiven and I do think that Gayle Forman has achieved this very successfully. Mia is a character that you can’t help but sympathise with – the tragedy she suffered was top of the charts and there are no ways to predict the sort of grief and trauma that a person healing from such a thing would go through. There are many ways in which they might lash out, in which anger and blame might manifest themselves and I found Mia’s reasoning and explanation while not rational, to be wholly believable.
There is only one aspect that I think lets this book down very slightly and that is, too much telling, not enough showing. In choosing to tell this story from Adam’s perspective, Forman loses to ability to make us see and feel how Mia must have as she was rehabilitating from her injuries, and as she was moving across the country to Julliard. We miss seeing her put together her shattered emotions and pysche and although she’s an amazingly strong person and we know that she is healing, we are only made aware of that through her explanations to Adam. And while I appreciated Adam’s point of view on many things, including the rock star rise to fame and how it had affected him, and also how the break up with Mia had affected him, I do think that a halfway point switch to Mia’s point of view might’ve been very beneficial to the reader to allow them to get back inside Mia’s head and understand things from her voice. She has so much to say, she is so much a focus of this story that I wish we’d gotten the chance to hear it from her, not just as she tells it to Adam.
Despite that small nitpick, I adored this book. I loved every page turn and when I closed it, teary and emotional (the guitar moment. I defy anyone not to sob at that!) I was satisfied with Adam, Mia and their love story. It was a beautiful, heartwarming story in the midst of the pain in If I Stay and ultimately, it is the shining light in this novel. You just know that these two people have to find their way back to each other somehow, even if the road to getting there is a hard one to take.
If you loved If I Stay and are busting for this one (or wanting to read it but too scared in case it breaks your heart) then just pick it up and dive right in. It’s not quite the rollercoaster of If I Stay but it’s a heck of a ride all on its own.
Book #33 of 2011
A -HUGE- thank you to Kat at Book Thingo who was kind enough to lend me her copy of Where She Went after seeing on Twitter how much I was desperate to read it.