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Review: I Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman

I Have Lost My Way
Gayle Forman
Simon & Schuster AUS
2018, 258p
Uncorrected proof copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

Around the time that Freya loses her voice while recording her debut album, Harun is making plans to run away from everyone he has ever loved, and Nathaniel is arriving in New York City with a backpack, a desperate plan, and nothing left to lose.

When a fateful accident draws these three strangers together, their secrets start to unravel as they begin to understand that the way out of their own loss might just lie in help­ing the others out of theirs.

Freya is a teenager who found fame singing with her sister on YouTube. Her mother studied trends – what got the latest hits, what posting times were the best and carefully carved out a successful schedule. All her hard work has paid off and the sisters drew the interest of a professional, someone who is going to take Freya to megastar status. It’s what he does. Freya is laying down tracks for her first album when she suddenly loses her voice and the doctors have no answers.

Harun is from a Pakistani-American family with strict religious and cultural beliefs. He knows he doesn’t fit in and that if his family ever found out his secret he’d probably be disowned. His cousin thinks he has the perfect answer for Harun, something that will make his family proud of him. But Harun’s heart is broken and he can’t go through with the plan to become someone else.

And then there’s Nathaniel, who is experiencing New York for the first time. He’s travelling light and he doesn’t really know the city but Nathaniel is only here for one thing. He’s got the information he needs, that’s all that matters. Until his plans get derailed when he meets Freya and Harun in a freak moment that changes all three of their lives forever.

I really like Gayle Forman – If I Stay and Where She Went are two of my favourite books of all time, although not the sort I can re-read over and over. They just mess with my emotions too much! I also like Just One Day and Just One Year but not as much as her other two but she will always be an autoread for me because of those two novels I love so much.

I absolutely adored all the characters in this book – Freya is funny and feisty. She’s half Ethiopian and connected with her father as a young child, singing with him. She and her sister formed a duo for a while but now it’s Freya on her own and she’s estranged from her sister. I loved the devotion to her heritage and how Freya is connected to that side of herself and it’s important to her, even as it’s also a source of pain for her. She’s supposed to be recording a much anticipated debut album, having built herself a strong following on social media and YouTube but she’s frozen, having lost her voice. No one has any answers for her.

The diversity is strong is this novel, as not only is Freya half Ethiopian half Jewish but Harun comes from a Pakistani-American family. His family are close knit but traditional so Harun does not feel that he can truly confide in them and be his true self even though he wants to. He found happiness and then lost it and sees a future he cannot cope with stretched out in front of him. At one stage in the novel, the three of them end back at Harun’s for a big dinner and Freya connects with the food, as some of the spices and seasonings are similar to what she recognises in Ethiopian food. She doesn’t know how to make Ethiopian food herself but Harun’s mother offers to teach her how to make her food so that she can experience those familiar flavours and it’s such a lovely moment. Two people from different cultures connecting over shared aspects, even though they’ve only just met. And Harun’s mother offering to help her continue to experience that. And poor Nathaniel, not quite able to handle the heat in some of the spicier dishes, which was hilarious. And that’s how I’d be, or worse because I have the lowest tolerance for hot and spicy food in the history of the world.

Which brings me to Nathaniel actually, who my heart broke for repeatedly throughout this novel. The novel begins with the three teens meeting by accident in Central Park and then flashes back for each of them, showing the moments in their lives that led to them being in the Park at that particular time. With every flashback into Nathaniel’s life I felt for him more. His childhood is only touched on in brief moments but the way in which Gayle Forman paints these moments allows to read to imagine his years growing up themselves and it’s obvious just what a mental toll it has taken on Nathaniel and how he hasn’t really come to terms with what he’s had to deal with and the abandonment and also responsibility. He’s struggling and it’s up to two people that he just met today in order to shine a light.

Because this novel takes place over a day, which is something that Gayle Forman has done before, it’s possible it could feel rushed or unbelievable, that these three people would connect so strongly despite being so different. But it’s not the case. It works surprisingly well in this book. Freya, Harun and Nathaniel meet in such bizarre circumstances and all three of them are at a time in their lives where they’re struggling with something or other that they all seem to just connect and share things about themselves with these virtual strangers that they can’t seem to share with the others in their lives. Harun in particular. I was a bit skeptical when they first meet but their sticking together evolves so naturally that it just felt like something that should happen. They could’ve parted ways quite soon after meeting but one thing leads to another and soon they’re sharing meals, blowing up families, confiding secrets and trying to save each other from terrible fates. They care about each other and each other’s individual predicaments – Harun and Nathaniel want to help Freya find her freedom to sing again, Nathaniel and Freya want to help Harun be accepted and Harun and Freya want to help Nathaniel see that there’s more. It’s beautifully and believably written and I just wanted them all to be friends forever.

8/10

Book #59 of 2018

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Joint Review: Just One Year – Gayle Forman

Just One YearJust One Year (Just One Day #2)
Gayle Forman
Definitions Publishing (Random House UK)
2013, 323p
Read from my local library

The following is a joint review between myself and Marg from Adventures of an Intrepid Reader. I have the first part of the conversation and Marg has the second part. My thoughts are in blue and Marg’s are in red.

B: Gayle Forman is an author who needs no introduction to YA fans. Her novels If I Stay and it’s follow up/companion Where She Went have left sobbing fans in their wake as people fell under Forman’s emotional spell. If I Stay is also soon to be a feature film and I think it’ll be interesting to see what they do with it for the big screen. Forman has moved on though, with her novel Just One Day released last year and its companion Just One Year. I read Just One Day about a year ago but I have to admit, I didn’t rush to read Just One Year. However I recently read a review of it that made me remember about it and I decided it was time to find out what happened between Willem and Allyson and experience Willem’s point of view. I’m just going to jump right in here Marg – was Just One Year the story you expected it to be?

M: It was the story I expected it to be but it was also more. When reading Just One Day, it was clear that Willem was meant to be somewhat enigmatic in terms of his character and so what I really wanted was the explanation of why he behaved the way he did and how did he end up where he was. After all, he was 21 years old, living a somewhat nomadic lifestyle, and even then we knew that from a girl perspective he was very much a one night stand kind of guy.

Did you feel as though the who and why of Willem was sufficiently explained?

 

B: In a way yes and in a way no. Essentially I wanted two things from this story – Willem’s point of view in Paris and what happened after Allyson knocked on his door at the end of Just One Day. I understand why we didn’t get a lot of Paris and how it only came to him later in fragments and bits and pieces. And even though that disappointed me, I understand that a lot of that story had already been told and Forman obviously didn’t want to repeat herself or backtrack the story. However without his point of view on it, I really didn’t feel the intensity or his interest in finding Allyson/Lulu, which he goes all the way to Mexico to do, because she mentioned she goes there with her family for spring break. I found it difficult to warm to Willem, even in Just One Day and I’m not sure this book really helped me see much more from his point of view. It became a blur of girls and locations. My favourite part of the book was Willem’s trip to India (not the Bollywood stuff but the conversations where he finally manages to connect with his mother after basically his entire life). In fact that might be the only part of the novel that I really enjoyed.

 

M: Ouch. I think I must of enjoyed it more than you then. I agree that there was definitely a blur of locations and girls but at least the way that Willem could have afforded to go to Mexico and India and lots of other places in between was explained reasonably, which doesn’t necessarily always happen in YA.

I really wondered if I had of enjoyed this book more if I had read Just One Day more recently. As it was there has been more than a year. I found myself trying to remember where Allyson was at exactly that point in the year. For example, as you mentioned Willem goes all the way to Mexico in his efforts to track Allyson down. I vaguely remembered there was something about the family going to Mexico and I couldn’t quite remember Allyson’s story at that time. Were they unknowingly within shouting distance of each other at that and other stages of the book. Having reread Just One Day would have helped with that.

Did you end up skimming the first book before you read this, or did you go into this relying on what you could remember from when you read it last year?

 

 

B: I read my review because I couldn’t find Just One Day at first look (of course it turned up pretty much the second I finished Just One Year) and I found that things came back to me as I read but I probably should have tried to skim JOD just to read Allyson and Willem together because there’s certainly not a lot of that here. I’d say that ultimately you did enjoy it a lot more than me and perhaps that’s because you’ve travelled and you’re familiar with some of these places. I’m not and because I was looking for things that weren’t there, what was left wasn’t really that interesting to me. I found Willem not exciting enough to carry the whole book – so much was made of how hot he was and how much of a manwhore he was and it got a bit boring after a while, girls tripping over themselves to be with him. I feel as though Willem’s amnesia stunted the book a little and for me, it didn’t really recover from there. It was always lagging behind – and of course part of that is my own fault, my preconceptions and wants. For me there was none of the emotion and beauty of IIS and WSW.

 

M: If I was going to suggest Forman books to read I would definitely start with If I Stay and Where She Went because I think they work better as a duology and as individual books,. I do think that there were things to like about both of these book too though. A big part of the like for me is the travel and adventure, but I think the thing I liked  most about this book was actually Willem’s growth. He definitely started off being kind of two dimensional (hot and um, hot) but along the way through Just One Year I felt as though we did get to see some development of emotional maturity. One example is the relationship with his mother which I doubt will ever be overly strong but he understands her more now and the way that she is capable of showing her love. Other ways I thought was the way that Willem was able to get some direction in terms of his acting and the way he started to value more of his own past. I really think that we needed to see that emotional growth to be able to believe that he would be ready for that inevitable moment when Allyson knocked on his door.

 

Jump on over to Marg’s blog and read the rest of our conversation….here!

For me, Just One Year was book #71 of 2014

And a 6/10 read

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Just One Day – Gayle Forman

Just One DayJust One Day (Just One Day #1)
Gayle Forman
Random House AU
2013, 369p
Read from my TBR pile

To celebrate her finishing high school, Allyson’s parents presented her with a ticket for a guided tour of Europe, taking in a lot of cities and even more Culture! On the last night of the tour, in Stratford-upon-Avon, Allyson and her friend Melanie are lining up to see a tour-approved  Shakespeare play when they are distracted by street performers hawking their own Shakespeare play, performed a lot more informally. Taken in by one of the performer’s blonde hair and blue eyes, Allyson does something very out of character: she and Melanie ditch their tour-approved Shakespeare play and go searching for the street one.

The next day, the tour is finished and Melanie and Allyson are taking the train to spend some time with Melanie’s cousin before flying out of London and home to America. But the boy from the Shakespeare play the night before is on their train and Allyson somehow finds herself convinced to take a day with him in Paris. Paris was cancelled from the official tour due to strikes and Willem, the Shakespeare boy is promising a whirlwind 24 hours, the likes of which Allyson would never have experienced with the tour. So for the second time, she does something uncharacteristic and she goes with Willem.

Paris is everything she imagined and more. Willem and Allyson (whom he calls Lulu, due to her looking like Louise Brooks) experience the different sides of Paris, not just the tourist traps. They take a tram to a random location, they sleep in a squat. Allyson feels free, a different person to the one she is at home. Everything is perfect – the sizzling chemistry with Willem, a Dutch actor who has been away from home for years, the scratching below the surface, the glimpses they are giving each other of the deep and meaningful. This is travel how it should be done and Allyson can’t help but think of how different it was to the tour.

But then it is over and Willem is gone and Allyson is stranded in a strange city. After Just One Day everything changes and when Allyson goes home and starts college doing pre-med, she finds herself struggling with moving on. She knows she needs to forget, that it was just that – one day out of her life. But she can’t forget Willem and she decides that she has to know what happened to him.

And for that, she has to go back to Paris.

Gayle Forman wrote two of my most favourite books – the phenomenal If I Stay and the follow up, Where She Went. In this book, she does something similar. Just One Day is part one and it is Allyson’s story. Then there’ll be Just One Year which will be Willem’s story. Needless to say, when I heard about these two books, I had only one thought: want now.

Allyson is a good girl – straight A student, dutiful daughter, about to undertake pre-med studies. Despite the fact that she’s 18, her parents and in particular her mother, treat her as though she is about 8. A child who needs their every decision made for them, right down to what clothes she will wear for each season. When they provide her with a ticket for the culture tour of European cities, it’s not something that Allyson enjoys. It’s bland, overly crowded and manufactured – iconic buildings and locations a blur out of the tour bus window as the coordinator recites facts that can be found on Wikipedia. That changes on the last day, when Allyson meets Willem. And decides to do something impulsive. And then something else impulsive.

On one hand, I really enjoyed this book. I loved Allyson’s finding of herself in that time with Willem. She felt like she could be someone else, but maybe who she was being was herself and the person she was at home in America with her parents, wasn’t her. There were risks with what she did, but the payoff for her was huge. The chance to travel as a backpacker type, taking in different parts of a city, not just the one monument it’s famous for, gave her wings. I liked Willem but unfortunately, I didn’t love him. There was plenty about him that remained a mystery and it may take reading Just One Year for me to fully love him. I loved the time the two of them spent in Paris but when Allyson returned home and started college, the tilt of the book shifted.

There were glimpses of genius – Dee, the friend Allyson makes when she throws caution to the wind and takes a Shakespeare class, is pure comedy gold. I also liked the way in which she became friends with Kali, her roommate. It gave the reader glimpses into the way that other people perceive Allyson, and it wasn’t always positive. The person Allyson was at her first semester of university wasn’t really a likable one. All the moping over Willem and what happened and France and then later the drama with her parents, tended to pull me out of the story a bit. It was a bit of a struggle, that section.

Then Allyson decided to back to Paris. And the story was fun and fresh and exciting again. She began to stretch her wings, find her independence and cut the apron strings of her overprotective mother who was projecting her own dreams on to Allyson. She found herself a summer job and began learning French. She got the courage to do the thing she needed to do alone but she also didn’t refuse help along the way like she once would have. She made more friends. She began to get the hang of the whole travelling on a whim thing.

(As an Australian, it’s hard not to be jealous of Europeans. They can visit a dozen different countries for about 50 bucks. Here it takes a long haul plane flight and close to 2k to get most places.)

Just One Day had flashes of brilliance but also some parts that were for me, just not fun to read at all. And not in a good way, where it rips out your heart and hands it to you, but in that bad way where you find yourself getting a bit bored with the plot and cranky at the main character. However I’m still eagerly anticipating Just One Year. I hope that novel will give me the answers I need to say that I am truly satisfied.

8/10

Book #50 of 2013

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Where She Went – Gayle Forman

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.

8/10

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.

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If I Stay – Gayle Forman

Everybody has to make choices, says the back cover of this book. Some might break  you.

Seventeen year old Mia is the daughter of loving but slightly eccentric parents. Her dad played music in a moderately successful band up until Mia was ten. Then he quit, surprising everyone and went back to college and got a teaching degree. Her parents met and married young, had Mia young. They are music freaks and always encouraged Mia to be creative, especially with music. Given their preferences, they expected Mia to pick up a guitar. But Mia was drawn to the cello. Her parents were puzzled, but after they saw that it was no passing fad, they encouraged and supported her every step of the way. Now Mia is trying out for Juilliard, has a fantastic (also musical) boyfriend, good friends. She’s happy. Until one day.

A rare snow day is declared in her town in Oregon and her whole family decides to make the most of it, spending the day together visiting some family, some friends. They’re driving along, music is playing and then all of a sudden, everything changes. Mia is standing on the road, staring down at the remnants of the devastating crash. She sees the lifeless bodies of her parents, then she sees another one, and she thinks it’s her younger brother Teddy. As she gets closer, she notices the bracelet. It isn’t Teddy with the blood seeping out, staining the chest. It’s Mia.

She watches everything. She watches the paramedics arrive, she watches them take her to the small, nearby hospital and then deem her too critical and she is airlifted to a bigger one. She watches the surgeries she goes through to try and save her life, she watches the doctors and nurses, the way they treat her. She watches her grandparents arrive at the hospital and sit in the waiting room. She looks for Adam, her boyfriend, who was supposed to be playing a gig in Seattle tonight. She watches her best friend Kim.

Mia doesn’t know what to do. She wanders around the hospital, watching everyone watching her and praying for her and weighing up her options: what would she be coming back to? Her family is gone, plucked away from her in one moment of screeching tyres and crushing metal. She is all that is left now. But she’s not a person that gives up. She has a choice to make in that quiet hospital…. does she stay? Or does she let go?

Woah. This book was intense. I’m not ashamed to admit that I deliberately waited until my fiance went away for a work-related trip before I read this. He thinks it’s sort of amusing that I cry all the time in books and I knew this one was going to be a tear jerker! So I waited until I was alone – and then I dived in.

The way that this story is told is incredible. We get to know Mia a little bit at at time as she wanders the halls of the hospital, taking us back through her life with her memories. Meeting and getting together with Adam, meeting her best friend Kim, the birth of her little brother who  is 10 years younger than she is, how her parents met and married, their love of music, Mia’s love of music. Their tightknit family unit is adorable and her life is a rich one, full of things that she loves and people that love her. It’s not cheesy, it’s just a clearcut view of a girl who was happy with herself finally, with her choices. She takes us through some not-so-good times too, but they’re all nothing compared to the moments she is living through now.

This book is deceptively simple in the way that’s it written. It’s straight forward, matter of fact without overly flowery and emotional prose but it packs a real punch. It’s beautiful to read and impossible to put down. Some scenes are truly and utterly heartbreaking and I had to stop reading and find tissues during the scene in which her grandfather speaks to her about it being okay for her to let go, if that is what she needs to do. Mia’s confusion and loss seeps through the pages into you until you feel like you are her. You feel like you are wandering the hospital, watching her family, her friend and her boyfriend grieve and pray for her and realising that her whole immediate family has been wiped out in one swoop. It’s a horrific thing for any young girl to face alone and as she goes through her mind processes you can understand why she just may want to let go.

A truly fantastic read. I can’t wait for the sequel, Where She Went, which is due out in April 2011.

9/10

Book #119 for 2010

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