There is something so sad about If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin. Having lived a good portion of my life already, it saddens me to see or read of wasted time, things that should be that aren’t. Nowlin’s book describes just that. Autumn and Finny lived next door to each other since birth. Their moms are best friends and it was always their hope that their children would take their own best friendship one step further. But you know how middle school and high school blur the ‘what should be’ with cliques and odd friendships and boyfriends and girlfriends, so that what should be doesn’t happen or is delayed.
So it is with Autumn and Finny. They get sidetracked. The sad part is that one word from either of them would get them back on track, but that doesn’t happen. And so we follow Autumn and her friends from eighth grade through high school graduation, the getting togethers and the breakups and the sex and the drinking…and mostly Autumn’s epiphany about Finny and her regrets.
And while If He Had Been With Me is nicely written and the main characters come to life, there were things that bothered me, although probably minor things. (1) None of these high school kids had summer jobs. They basically spend the summers bumming around, going to the mall, and drinking a bit. These are the cream of the crop, honors students. No summer jobs? It seems odd to me. (2) So little talk about college and where everyone should go so that they could maintain their relationships. Honors students are obsessed with college. Not these, however. (3) The ending. I won’t tell you about it, but I couldn’t get my hands around it. Sorry. Some may find it sweet. Some may ask why. Some may groan. I was the guy who asked ‘why’? Why that? Couldn’t it have been different? The whole thing doesn’t ring true. (I guess your opinion might help me accept the ending…or not.)
I admit something about the book compelled me to keep reading, to find out what disaster occurred because you know from the beginning that a disaster occurs, but you don’t know why. Maybe I could have gotten there faster. Maybe I was tired of Autumn and Finny’s reticence to make the move. I don’t know.
You might say after reading this that I’m ambivalent about the book and as I write this, I guess I am. Don’t get me wrong. I liked it, it’s just that I was bothered by the things I mentioned earlier. Was anyone else bothered?