Gayle Forman – Where She Went (2011, Dutton Books)
This is the sequel to Forman’s brilliant novel If I Stay, of which I was so tearfully enamoured: in it, talented young cellist Mia’s life is changed forever by a car crash that kills both of her parents and her brother and leaves her severely injured and in a comatose state. Whereas the first book deals with all of the emotion and uncertainty that Mia faces, Where She Went focuses on the feelings of Mia’s boyfriend, Adam, whom she leaves behind after the accident when she travels to New York to attend school. Three years have passed since Mia left for Juilliard and severed her ties with Adam; in the meantime, Adam has brought his rock band, Shooting Star, to international superstardom. But while Mia pursues her dream of becoming a classical musician, Adam is miserable: he’s in a steady relationship with an actress he doesn’t love, he’s disillusioned with music and with his bandmates, he doesn’t feel connected to his life. He can’t get over the loss of Mia. And although there are a ton of great love stories with a similar premise, for some reason this doesn’t really work for me. Where Mia’s voice deeply resonated with me in the first book, I could never feel the same way about Adam’s in the second: full of angst and tortured tone, Adam is absolutely eviscerated by Mia’s departure and her maltreatment of him, but his grief over the loss of their relationship seems sort of flimsy and very tiring, somehow. It just doesn’t hold as well as the car accident, for me. Adam just comes across as a whiny musician, and that doesn’t mesh with my sense of him in the first book. He seemed to possess a quiet strength and a definite sense of humour in If I Stay. There is nothing to break his unwavering defeatist misery in the second book – even despite her nearly-fatal injuries in If I Stay, Mia’s recollection of childhood memories and celebration of friendship and family offer a sort of relief, and we don’t see any of that with Adam’s story.
Nevertheless, this is a well-written book, and readers of the first novel will be grateful for the closure it provides. Forman’s portrayal of the stresses and rewards of the rock star life is insightful, and the device of the mini tour of New York City is carefully presented and very thoughtful. As with the first novel, I was delighted with all of the musical references: the scene with Adam and the borrowed iPod is seriously special. Forman does a masterful job of representing Adam and Mia’s permanently scarred, mature personalities – it’s not her fault if I couldn’t get past the moody emo stuff.