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My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“Where She Went” is the sequel to Gayle Forman’s 2009 YA debut, “If I Stay,” in which Mia Hall, a talented young cellist headed for Julliard, contemplates whether or not she has the strength to “stay” after her entire family is killed in a horrific car crash and she is gravely injured and in a coma. In “If I Stay,” Mia does indeed decide to live, partially due to the love of her boyfriend, Adam, who begs her to keep living– he confesses that he would do anything, even let her go, if she just wakes up from her coma.
“Where She Went” takes place four years later, after Mia has made a near-miraculous recovery, has graduated from Julliard, and is headed on a world tour as a gifted professional cellist, but the story is far less about Mia than it is about Adam, whose narration in “Where She Went” provides a perfect match to Mia’s spare, poetic, and complicated voice in “If I Stay” with his desperate anger and grief over losing her. Adam has become a famous rock star on the power of the album he wrote in response to Mia leaving him and Oregon behind, silently shutting out the part of her life that wiped out her family and nearly ended her life.
The story hinges on a single day: Adam and Mia meet by accident in New York the day before each of them head off for their tours, and as they tentatively circle each other while visiting Mia’s late-night haunts, their conversations and memories build a picture of the time they lost and the ways they still need one another.
I was skeptical of this sequel at first because “If I Stay” was so well crafted and wrapped up; I feared another messy “my-publishing-house-wants-to-milk-this” sequel, but was pleasantly surprised. The shift to Adam as narrator makes the two books compliment each other in important ways, and the attention to real emotion and detail that Forman evokes in her descriptions and her characters’ reactions to life-changing events gives “Where She Went” a compelling verisimilitude.