As soon as I finished Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, I had to go put myself on the library hold list for the sequel, Where She Went because what bothered me most about the first book was where it ended. This wasn’t because of how it ended but because the part of Mia’s story I was most interested in wasn’t included (the book actually ended the only way that would really make sense based on the way the narrative was set up). While Where She Went doesn’t pick up where the last book left off, it does address the part of the story I had wanted but which wasn’t in the first book.
Three years after the accident that claimed the lives of Mia’s parents and brother, Where She Went follows Adam instead of Mia and in the intervening years, Adam and his band have hit the big time in a big way. Despite the success, Adam is not in a good place and knows it. The album he wrote, the one that made the band famous was written after Mia left for Julliard and he never saw her again. Almost three years later with his life a mess of paparazzi, pills, and planes, he finds himself with some free time to kill and an advertisement for Mia’s cello concert in front of him.
What I had most wanted to see in If I Stay was Mia’s struggle to come to terms with her decision to stay in the days, weeks, months following the accident; the moments of doubt and of triumph as she went through physical rehabilitation and pushing herself to continue to follow her dreams. There are glimpses of that in Where She Went but the shift in narrator means that glimpses are all the reader can get. And while it wasn’t what I wanted going into the book, I was more than satisfied with what I found instead. The physical, emotional, and psychological struggles of those survivors are, in many ways, familiar. By shifting focus to Adam and how the accident and its aftermath affected him, we get to see another side of Mia and the broader extent of those impacted by the loss of her family.
While If I Stay was predictably and understandably nostalgic in its presentation of Mia’s family, Where She Went has a harsher reality to the way Adam remembers the intervening three years. There are plenty of elements that are cliché but at they didn’t ring quite as forced as in the first novel. The emotional upheaval was similarly raw but in a very different way from If I Stay; it was still recognizable and realistic but it arose from such a different kind of hurt. And what the book shows is that we as a society tend to be more accepting of some varieties of pain than others and that doing such is an injustice; to those suffering, devaluing their pain in relation to that of someone else doesn’t make the pain they feel go away.
I’m surprised I didn’t care that the ending of the novel was so predictable and fairytale-ish. I didn’t go in expecting it to end in a realistic way. This was probably why it didn’t bother me to see that even though there were moments when I found myself wondering if I might find a more realistic, open-ended resolution in the final pages, the story ultimately veered back to the predictably sappy.