Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Where She Went by Gayle Forman

From Amazon: In the three years since the tragic accident Mia barely survived in If I Stay, she and high school ex-boyfriend Adam have lived separate lives on opposite coasts. But then Adam, now the dissatisfied front man of popular LA-based band Collateral Damage, stops over in New York City for one night before kicking off the European leg of his tour. It happens to be the same evening that Mia, now well on her way to becoming a renowned cellist, is performing at Carnegie Hall. Adam buys a ticket, planning to slip in and out, but Mia spots him and for the first time in years they’re face-to-face with each other and their shared past.

Over the course of one evening, as Adam and Mia traverse the city’s streets, they relive the four days Mia spent in the intensive care unit as well as her departure to Juilliard and from the life she knew. Emotionally raw and incredibly moving, Gayle Forman again showcases her considerable talent for drawing complex characters who face impossible decisions and then bear the consequences. Equally as compelling as If I Stay, Where She Went is powerful, heartbreaking, and everything fans of Mia, Adam, and Forman could hope for.

My take: I read reviews on If I Stay and finally succumbed. I read it. I hated it. I wrote a watered down review because even though I hated it, I know good writing and Gayle Forman understands the craft better than any author I know. Perhaps it felt contrived and maybe vulturistic to write a story based on a tragedy she read in the newspaper. The story was raw and I didn't connect well with the characters.

Let's summarize: Mia gets in the car with her parents and 8 year old brother and drives someplace in Oregon (sorry, I'm not doing this justice because I've forgotten the details). Next thing Mia knows, she is standing by her own broken body, thrown from the car and watching paramedics work on her surviving brother who later dies. Her parents died on impact. Mia has a choice to make. Does she join her family in death or does she make the hard recovery back to life? Boyfriend Adam plays a big part in her choice. The End.

Do I sound callous and unappreciative of a well crafted book? I think I may have to rethink my first opinion, reread the book and rewrite my review after finishing Where She Went. All I wanted to know when I started the book (thank you, Briana!) was whether or not Adam and Mia end up together. No review I read would tell me the answer to that question. The more I read, the more I realized how nice it would be if they did but it was nearly irrelevant (nearly the operative word because I am still the romantic).

Forman does not give the easy answers with pop-psychology phrases. Like a good massage, she works the shallow muscles then goes much deeper until she hits the painful epicenter and the toxins are released. Understanding dawns and a connection occurs.

By this point in time, Adam is a successful rock star. He has the wealth, the gorgeous and intelligent girlfriend, and the talent. Although he withdrew when Mia left, he returned to the stage with raw, painful, and beautiful lyrics and songs. Clearly, their relationship, her accident and subsequent withdrawal from his life offered him muse and he used it as a catharsis. Still, Adam is completely broken. As the story progresses, the reader realizes the reasons for his brokenness is much deeper than Mia dumping him. I really liked that part. The emphasis is not on Mia, necessarily but on how the experience with Mia impacted him.

Adding to the complexity is the organization of the book. Adam toggles from now and the past and Forman paints the full picture with artistic strokes that eventually reveal a much more wholistic picture. While in Adam's head, the reader travels with the couple as they dance around the big issue: Why did Mia withdraw/dump him? Using as many distractions as possible, Mia introduces Adam to her New York until, significantly, the revelations occur on a bridge, a lyrical analogy.

Another aspect I loved about this book is that the reader is taken on the journey of Adam and his metamorphosis which is also interesting when seen in juxtaposition of Mia's quiet admission of her irrational fear of butterflies. There are no aha! moments that shatter the earth or the story. The destination is an objective but, like real life, the process is where growth really occurs.

I really, really loved this book.


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