Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Where She Went
Gayle Forman
Series: If I Stay, #2
Released: April 5th, 2011
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Rating: 5 stars
Word Rating: Uncontrollable sobbing
Reviewed by: Kate

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It's been three years since the devastating accident . . . three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Juilliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future-and each other.

Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

Mel and I adore Gayle Forman's writing, so while Blythe's on a break from the blog we thought we'd review a couple of Forman's older novels in anticipation of next month's release of Just One YearYesterday Mel talked about If I Stay; today I'm following up with its sequel.  Enjoy!

***This review contains spoilers for If I Stay (As does that blurb up there).***

But I'd do it again.  I know that now.  I'd make that promise a thousand times over and lose her a thousand times over to have heard her play last night or to see her in the morning sunlight.  Or even without that.  Just to know that she's somewhere out there.  Alive.

Boy.  This book really took me by surprise.  So many of the things Forman does here are massive pet peeves of mine, and she somehow turns them on their heads and makes it all work just beautifully. Here are some of the things I hate when they happen in all books but this one:

SEQUELS TO GIMMICKY FIRST BOOKS: If I Stay wasn't my favorite.  The whole thing with Mia having such a cool, perfect, dead family and then her spirit is floating around observing the interactions of people in the hospital while her brain remembers the past just...I don't know.  It's not my thing.  And I feel pretty strongly that episodic sequels should feel almost like echoes of the books that precede them, which I didn't think could be done without another character nearly dying.  And I guess in a way Adam is dying, but his is a metaphorical death, and the lowered stakes of his situation here lend the story a poignancy (and a relatability) that I felt was lacking in the previous novel.

ORIGINAL SONG LYRICS:  This is always a disaster.  When I see lyrics to original songs in novels, I almost always feel extreme empathic humiliation for the author, who obviously wants desperately to be a cool poet.  But the lyrics really, really worked for me here, maybe partially because Blind Pilot's "Three Rounds and a Sound" came on my iPod just as I read, "Bullets of the gun, rounds one two three/She says I have to pick: choose you, or choose me," which, I know, seem like terrible lyrics when taken out of context, but the rest of the verse is good, as are the rest of the songs in the book.

RICH PEOPLE COMPLAINING ABOUT THEIR FANCY LIVES: Forman is really, really good at making me give a shit about wealthy characters who are having feelings problems, and I'm not quite sure how she does it.  This shocked me in Just One Day, too.  I mean, Where She Went is about a famous 21-year-old rock star who is still hung up on the high school girlfriend who dumped him.  There is absolutely no reason, aside from Forman's gorgeous character work, that this should be even remotely interesting.

YOUNG MALE FIRST-PERSON NARRATION WRITTEN BY A WOMAN: This, like my previous point, comes back to Forman's deftness with character.  I actually prefer Adam's voice in this novel to Mia's in the previous one. (Side note: this gives me hope for Just One Year)

TREATING A HIGH SCHOOL RELATIONSHIP LIKE IT MATTERS AT ALL AFTER SCHOOL ENDS:  This one is pretty self-explanatory, and it, too, comes down to the characters and the extreme circumstances of their lives.

PORTRAYAL OF PROFESSIONAL ACTORS AND MUSICIANS WHO LIVE IN LOS ANGELES: Most of my friends and I work in the entertainment industry, and I become irate when authors get lazy with their research in this area.  So many books with entertainment-focused elements rely on an old school, almost Sweet Valley High-esque version of the world I live and work in, and it's pretty insulting.  But everything about Adam and his interactions with his actress girlfriend ring true for me.  It's really heartening.

This novel is just impossibly lovely, especially when you take into account all the ways it really should have gone wrong.  I read Where She Went very late at night. And then I had to read it a second time, while bawling like a tiny baby boy, before I was able to fall asleep. That's about as good as it gets for me.


  1. So I just went all fangirly while reading your review because I need this book right. now. this. instance. But it's not going to be in my hands until like next week. Rich people complaining about their lives is so bloody annoying but like you said, Gayle can make anything near flawless.

    Fabulous review, Kate! <33

    1. Thanks, Mel.

      She's so, so good. I think you're gonna ADORE Adam. He's amazing.

    2. I already do! This means I will love him even more *squeals with excitement*

  2. Oh god yes I feel the same way about this book! Made me cry so much. It really gets to you, you know? I agree about the song lyrics, I think they worked perfectly as well. And it's so cool that you work in the entertainment industry! I loved Adam so much in this book. I wish there was a third ;)
    Awesome review, Kate!

    Richa @ City of Books

    1. I want another book about Adam. So, so badly I want it.

  3. I was really surprised at how talented Gayle was at writing in a male perpective so vividly. The music element in this novel really came to life and I fell in love this novel like you did. Lovely review. xD

    1. I know. It's just all so beautifully done.

      Have you read Just One Day yet?

  4. Fantastic review, Kate! I saw Gayle's tweet about this post and I must agree! Her books are such risk takers, I nearly didn't pick up If I Stay because of my first impressions.

    1. Thanks, Johanna! Gayles character work is so, so good. I just absolutely believe everything she writes. The honest portrayals are REALLY brave, as is the way she absolutely never judges her characters.

  5. What an awesome idea. I was just thinking to myself how many bloggers seem to be picking up Just One Year now, and I'd just seen the blog tour start for it too! How nice of you to stir up our enthusiasm for JOY & Forman's writing anew :).

    Was this your first time -- okay, I answered my question before asking just by looking at the GR page. I was going to express disbelief that it'd taken you this long to read Where She Went :P. Clearly that was a misstep on my part.

    Awww, you didn't like If I Stay? I liked Where She Went, but I got really oddly into the music aspect and Adam's request and losing the people close to her while she watches, disconnected. "And I feel pretty strongly that episodic sequels should feel almost like echoes of the books that precede them, which I didn't think could be done without another character nearly dying." <-- What do you mean by this? I thought most sequels were generally thought of as the 'character builders' of series etc. But I do agree with you on the poignancy of the novel and his emotions. (Also side note: at least it wasn't told from his POV as the same events of If I Stay happened. That would've been my pet peeve!)

    Yes. Agreed. Song lyrics generally are terrible. I'm still not convinced about the ones in this book, but I wonder if the publisher had done something to promote the title via that music? Would've been nice if it did.

    "Forman is really, really good at making me give a shit about wealthy characters who are having feelings problems, and I'm not quite sure how she does it." <-- Yes. Her writing just has some sort of weird voodoo for us, I guess :P.

    OMG YES: YOUNG MALE FIRST-PERSON NARRATION WRITTEN BY A WOMAN. I usually cringe whenever I see that. I know a bunch of people say, "more male perspectives" and blah but really a lot of the ones I've seen have been piss poor. At least Adam felt like a realistic character. And yes! I'm looking forward to how that translates with Just One Year and Willem. Early reviews seem positive.

    TREATING A HIGH SCHOOL RELATIONSHIP LIKE IT MATTERS AT ALL AFTER SCHOOL ENDS --- Kate... we agree on a lot of this. And pet peeves, I think.

    I can't testify to the PRO/LA life scene, but I'm glad it worked out for you and it was actually authentic. Now I just have one question for you: why bawling like a tiny baby boy?

    1. I just typed a long reply and then my computer hit the mouse-y tracker pad thing on my computer and it took me back to the previous page. Grrrr.

      This is the gist of it:

      I liked If I Stay, but I read Thirteen Reasons Why, then Before I Fall, then If I Stay. Right in a row, over the course of two days. I think I maybe just couldn't handle another Dead Girl story. So, to answer your later question about the bawling...I think maybe it was catharsis? But maybe not, because I was flipping back through it to write this review, and I started crying again. You know what it might be? I really, really, REALLY identify with Adam's loneliness. Being artistic for a living is incredibly isolating. When I do my best work as an actor, I cannot relate emotionally to the people in my real life at all. It's kind of scary. And I snap out of it after a week or so, but when I'm in it, all the focus is on turning the empathetic emotions we all feel when we read about something into feelings that I am actually having at the time. <---no, that last thing is the answer. It's because when I read, I read like an actor. I become the character, so I feel the loss as though it is happening to me.

      And the sequel thing is said is hard to explain. I meant "episodic" like how we talk about it in the television industry. So an episodic sequel would be one where you don't have to have read the first book to understand the second one. Like Buffy or Law & Order. A serialized sequel--in the language I use in my real life--would be one that continues the story of the previous one, like The Lord of the Rings books and Maggie Stiefvater's stuff/Breaking Bad, Vampire Diaries, etc.

      So if the only thing tying the two stories together is common characters, and it's not really continuing the action of a previous novel, I need the action--like, the beats of the story--to be parallel. Forman handled it by doing the bounce back-and-forth between the past and present like in the first book and also by having be kind of in (this sounds so cheesy) an emotional coma. And then she brings him back the way he saved her in If I Stay. I mean, it's the exact same book if you break it down into pieces.

      Does that make sense outside my own head?

      The high school relationship thing...hoo boy. Such a drag.

      And a lot of MEN do a bad job of writing good first-person boys, too, actually. I think maybe because young me are monsters, and no one wants to live there.

    2. (I meant "by having ADAM be," not "by having be." Obviously.

    3. And also I meant "young men," not "young me," although I'm sure both are true.

  6. I didn't read your review because I don't want to spoil anything from the first book for myself. I am going to listen to the audiobook of it soon. I just wanted to leave some comment love since I have been a bad commenter lately. :)

    1. Haha, I haven't been great about it either, Amy. Thanks for stopping by. I wonder how they handle the song lyrics in the audio book...

  7. Okay, so! Any book that takes tropes that would normally bug the heck out of you (and me, because some of those would irk me, too) and turns them inside out and makes you LIKE them? I have got to read this one.

    Just as soon as I work up the nerve.

    Molli | Once Upon a Prologue

  8. This review seems to sum up all the feelings I didn't even know I had towards this book. You are so spot on about everything here. This book completely killed me emotionally, in a way that was very different than If I Stay, and made it by far my favourite of the two.

    I was really surprised to see that Adam was the main character in this one, I didn't know that going in and was hesitant whether Forman could pull it off, but she managed to write his perspective so perfectly.

    Everything about their lives was seemingly so completely unbelievable, from their individual successes to their intense love that lasted beyond high school, and yet she managed to make it all completely believable through her character building.

    I can't come across a review of this book without stopping to fangirl because it is just that good. Even months after reading it for the first time, thinking about it makes me emotional, which sounds absolutely ridiculous but I just can't help it.

    1. Liz, me too. People who didn't have that emotional reaction don't understand, but I will nearly start crying in the middle of the grocery store if I am reminded of this book.

      I'm reading Just One Year right now, and my fingers are crossed that Willem is written as well as Adam. Because, man, did Adam ever feel like a real person to me.

      And thank you for your kind words! This book really, really, really meant a lot to me.


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