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Gayle Forman – Where She Went

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If, to save their life, you tell someone that you’ll leave, what happens if you didn’t quite mean it?

Publisher: Definitions (Random House)
Pages: 264
Type: Fiction
Age: Young Adult
ISBN: 978-1-849-41428-9
First Published: 2011
Date Reviewed: 13th December 2012
Rating: 5/5

It’s three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life, after she’d woken following the car crash that killed her family and left her in a coma. She never told him why she left him, and since then Adam has been a mess. It’s of no consequence that he’s now an A-lister with groupies and actress girlfriends aplenty, all he ever wanted was Mia, and when he walks past a theatre and sees that she’s playing a concert that evening, he can’t help himself.

Where She Went is the powerful sequel to Forman’s bestseller, If I Stay. This time narrated by Adam and set within an 18 hour period, it looks at what happens when people struggle to regain themselves and the harm that a lack or, rather, change, in communication can do to a relationship.

Although the “action” does take place in a short time, there are many flashbacks. However unlike in other cases, it doesn’t feel as though Forman should have set the book over a longer period – the flashbacks are natural and there is nothing superfluous. Each one demonstrates an important aspect of Adam and Mia’s relationship, or gives the reader information about a particular moment.

There are secondary characters, but apart from the flashback chapters, these people all remain minor. The spotlight is entirely on Adam, even when Mia is there. In fact, being told from Adam’s perspective, Mia even sometimes seems a secondary character herself as you only know what she tells Adam. With Adam you get every ounce of raw emotion.

“You were so busy trying to be my saviour that you left me all alone.”

And whilst what’s going on in Adam’s head is crucial except during times when Mia’s pain trumps it, it’s the dialogue that takes the book into award-winning territory. Forman has a talent for dialogue and characters that is remarkable. The dialogue is realistic, powerful, angsty, and the author knows exactly what the reader wants to hear about and hands it over. You may have to wait to know everything, but your waiting feels the same as Adam’s, you feel the same irritation he does whilst Mia babbles on about things that don’t matter, impatient to cut to the chase and learn her side of the story. And there are many times when the reader might wonder if Forman really will let you know, or whether she’ll allow Mia to walk off into the night and leave you to comfort Adam by the wayside, all the while crying yourself.

In an industry where, as of late, italics tend to be overused, Forman is an exception. She uses italics to excess, but due to her writing style it works where if anyone else would have written this book it wouldn’t have. Instead of becoming an annoyance, Adam’s constant usage of emphasis in his thoughts and conversation only serve to make his pain more obvious, and therefore to draw the reader in. The emphasised words always sound natural and they are spot on – there is never an emphasis on the wrong word. And the emotion and impact is ever more likely to hit the reader so that the lines between story and reality become blurred.

Incidentally it should be noted that Forman has written lyrics for Adam’s band, which are used throughout the story and complied at the end. The detailing and relevance of them shows just how much extra effort went into the book.

The development of the characters is of the utmost importance, and Forman continues what she started previously, making the characters so alike, in both situation and interests, but different enough that they could be strangers. In a way, they are. But they still think similarly and their thought processes mean that they’ll see things the same, then differently, and then the same, in a way that suggests that they ought to be together always – and not in that stereotypical romantic fashion. They are one, but they are also individuals.

Spirituality and hope forms part of the story, the way that Mia has come to accept the physical loss of her family, but has kept their memories alive in her heart. It aids the story a little but mostly stands for a person trying to live once alone, and moving forward whilst keeping that link to the past.

For all you do hear from Mia, there could have perhaps been more information about why she left Adam and what happened afterwards. Adam discusses his successive relationships, for example, but Mia’s past is more ambiguous. A good guess could be made, but if the guess were correct some further reasoning would have added even more to the story.

It is difficult to describe how much this book has the potential to affect the reader, how it may be one of those stories that brings you to tears. Even if it isn’t as powerful for some, the style is such that most if not all should at the very least be able to appreciate it. Forman’s talent for storytelling and creating characters transcends the need for perfect prose – though her prose is far from average.

Where She Went is a fantastic sequel and although it would be difficult to enjoy without having read If I Stay beforehand, the power that exists on those pages would have a certain impact no matter whether you are already familiar with Adam and Mia or not.

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March 8, 2013, 2:08 pm

I loved these two books so much! It made her new book all the more disappointing for me!

Audra (Unabridged Chick)

March 8, 2013, 7:59 pm

Hmmm — I might give these a try. I don’t always do YA but I’m tempted now and then…


March 10, 2013, 10:32 am

The first book caught my attention when I saw it time ago in the Spanish blogs (and so did Lauren Oliver’s books) and I think someday I will give it a try, although you say you can read the second without knowing the story.

Belle Wong

March 10, 2013, 9:26 pm

I loved If I Stay so much. I enjoyed Where She Went, too, although I did like If I Stay better. I think Forman is an utter genius when it comes to flashbacks. Normally, I don’t like reading too much flashbacks, but in both books, I thought they were both crucial and very, very natural.


March 11, 2013, 10:11 pm

Rhapsody: That was my thinking when I read your review – the bar is high (even if I wasn’t so keen on If I Stay). Hopefully it’s just a blip.

Audra: They’re recommended highly by most YA readers, I believe, so if you’re looking to read one or two they’d be a very good choice.

Isi: Yes, I’d say you could read it without the first. Though I’m not sure how much it would change the emotional impact. Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall had a similar premise, I’d recommend it too (perhaps even more than If I Stay).

Belle: Yes, the flashbacks in these books work so well, they don’t feel intrusive at all. I can see why you liked If I Stay more, there is a big difference in the book’s method of storytelling (ie: Mia then Adam’s POV). I think Where She Went won for me in part because of the music.



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