Gayle Forman’s “Where She Went”

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I read this novel in its entirety last night as I attempted to avoid election updates. For a few hours, at least. It was a welcome distraction.

Two or three years ago I picked up If I Stay from my university’s library. I had gotten into the habit of hoarding stacks of books in my room as a sort of guilty pleasure; I knew I would never be able to make a dent in the precarious tower on my nightstand, but, every day–almost without fail–I brought home another book. For kicks and giggles, I explored the YA section looking for quick reads and randomly pulled If I Stay from the shelf. This edition had a pale blue cover with a white tree branch on it.

I took it home.

At that time, I was in the midst of a profound anxiety (as I am now after last night), and I had started going on hours long walks late at night. I thought I should be productive and start reading the books I had brought home. If I Stay was at the top.

It was like salve on a wound at the time.

One of the most striking elements of her prose–something that truly carries over to Where She Went–is its sparseness. Mia and Adam never jumble their complex and visceral experiences with too many words; they say exactly what they mean. Forman’s technique gives both novels a haunting, elegant tone and sets up a readable pace that fosters voracious consumption.

There are a few details from the first book that I must have forgotten, though, because their presence in the sequel irked me. Adam Wilde’s band makes a transition from indie pop college radio fodder to heavier rock with grunge/punk overtones. And they’re called “Shooting Star.” Call me crazy, but I think Forman could have come up with something a little better than that. It’s trivial, but juxtaposed with the near flawlessness of the prose, I was annoyed that a small detail like that was there to diminish its beauty.

Furthermore, the lyrics Forman uses at the beginning of “present” chapters also seemed underdeveloped–merely a trite rendering of the mental and physical anguish of Mia’s silent rejection. Of course, the author is not a lyricist (to the best of my knowledge), but they resembled the maudlin masquerading as angsty lyrics of “emo/post punk” bands.

But–to be fair–this is just another small complaint.

As a whole, the novel is technically well-crafted. What struck me the most, though, comes from Adam’s transition between the two novels. Young adult novels typically target the emotions and experiences that are new to teenagers: first love, the first flames of rebellion/self-discovery, etc. I fully expected to find the same hits in this novel, which I thought might hinder my reading experience as a twenty-two year old reader whose brain has been pickled by political journalism and the ensuing rage.

But just as If I Stay appealed to me in the final days of my teenage years, Where She Went cut through some of my apathy to a lot of the feelings and personality ticks that I either try to avoid or use as a shield. Adam’s perspective in particular brings up old feelings from when I was summarily cut out of the lives of people I cared about, which I, in turn, did to people I cared about as a preemptive strike to inconvenient pain.

Adam acts the part. He has the facade of an illusive rock star, stemming from his disdain for the industry and his crippling anxiety. But the fact that he doesn’t try to delude himself into downplaying the role of his relationship with Mia and the accident is bold and brash and something not a lot of people my age are prepared to do.

My smug superiority complex would never let me admit to myself that I’m still hung up on an ex from years ago, but Adam lets it plague him to the benefit of his art and to the detriment of everything else in his life. This tension makes the catharsis of that moment on the Brooklyn bridge all the more powerful. The novel could have ended there, and it would have felt complete.


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