I read “if he had been with me” by Laura Nowlin because it was on a list of YA books you must read. This one was frustrating. Was it a good book? Yes. Well-written? Yes. Good characters? Yes. Did it get under my skin? You bet. Have I already talked to friends about it? Yes. I should tell you that on Amazon and Goodreads this book gets mostly great reviews. But it bugged me. If I was recommending it to friends or especially teenagers- it would totally depend on the person.
The story is about Autumn and Finn, next door neighbors born a couple of days apart and best friends through childhood. Until the first day of high school thereabouts when Autumn decides ah, not so much anymore. She doesn’t want to be popular or run with Finn’s crowd anymore and she certainly doesn’t know how to deal with her feelings for him. She’s the story-teller here and it puts you in her head through all four years of their high school experience which does go by a lot quicker than my high school experience did.
Unfortunately I can’t talk about the bugging parts without spoilers so be warned there will be spoilers included below!
1. Teen Pregnancy- I don’t consider myself a prude or anything but I couldn’t help thinking it would be teenagers reading this book… There are two instances of unprotected sex both of which the girl’s blow off protection. One of Autumn’s friends does indeed get pregnant. But the boy is thrilled and they get married and his parent’s give them an apartment and she looks absolutely beautiful during prom at eight months pregnant and he can’t keep his hands off her and everything is wonderful. Hey, maybe it happens and they are only secondary characters but still I was rolling my eyes pretty hard at them.
2. This is the second book I’ve read in a week where the girl wants to wait to have sex and the boyfriend is wonderfully willing and supportive of doing so. Unfortunately it’s the second book I’ve read in a week where you find out said boyfriend is fine with that because he’s doing someone else on the side. Maybe it bugged because it was back to back books but I couldn’t help think it was a good message blown. And come on, not all guys are like that!
3. Autumn has depression in the book and her mom has been hospitalized several times for suicide attempts. This was a great thing to try to tackle but Autumn is very dismissive of it even though she goes to the Doctor and is medicated she doesn’t think highly of him and thinks often that she’s only depressed because it’s winter or whatever. At the end of the book Autumn tries to commit suicide and vows to keep doing it again until she gets it right until she learns that she’s possibly pregnant and then she’ll live for the baby because Finn wouldn’t ever forgive her for that.
I didn’t know what to feel about that part honestly. Was I supposed to think it was romantic? Life-affirming? Sure, I guess. But I found it troubling too. Autumn has some real problems and as a character she felt very real and perhaps close to some of the people I’ve known in my life but tidying up her story with the possibility of a baby wasn’t really a happy ending for me.
So there it is- my issues with the book. But hey, reading is a personal thing and everyone takes from it what they will. The only other thing I would say is that it romanticized some pretty heavy stuff in my opinion and while I found the characters real I didn’t really find the situations realistic.