My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
“If He Had Been with Me” was a novel I never expected to enjoy as much as I did. Based off the summary alone, I knew going in that the story centered around two childhood friends–Phineas and Autumn–and some sort of Traumatic Event that changed both their lives for good. I had my suspicions regarding the nature of said trauma, and since I ended up being one hundred percent correct, I won’t disclose those suspicions here.
Traumatic event aside, Autumn and Phineas’s story is at its heart a contemporary coming-of-age tale, set at a suburban high school in an affluent town. It’s written in a style that feels instantly familiar, using dozens of little details to ground the reader in individual moments, while the big picture stuff fades into the background. I really enjoyed how easy it was for me to tie Autumn’s high school experience–the crazy adventures with her friends, the thrill of first love, the anticipation of the future–back to my own days as a student.
The strength of the bonds between Autumn and the people she loves were what made the story stand out to me. I loved how complex her relationships with her friends, her makeshift family, and Phineas were, and the low points or high notes within each personal connection fit perfectly within the novel’s expanded timeline.
By the time I’d reached the final pages, the Traumatic Event that causes Autumn to address the title’s concerns felt almost superfluous. Whether Autumn had been able to prevent the inevitable outcome of hers and Phineas’s story or not doesn’t matter half as much as how that outcome changes her. And for a book that centers so much around how different choices can lead to different paths, that small resolution feels just right.
If you enjoy your YA quiet but immensely gripping, definitely give this a look.