Finn and Autumn have grown up next door to each other their entire lives. They were inseparable as children, but one small moment in middle school spins their friendship off the rails. Now in high school, the two operate in completely separate social circles. Although they are both dating other people, Autumn has always wondered “what if” when it comes to her and Finn. The night she finally works up the courage to find out, things are irrevocably changed forever.
Laura Nowlin’s immersive novel operates mostly as an examination of unfulfilled childhood love. It’s beautifully written, completely engrossing, and full of interesting, full characters. There’s not a lot of plot here, so readers looking for a fast-paced read should look elsewhere, but readers relishing the idea of climbing inside Autumn’s head won’t be disappointed.
Nowlin’s prose is sensitive, enveloping, and pure. Readers spend all four years of high school inside Autumn’s head as she navigates life-forming events and undergoes trials and tribulations with friends. Throughout it all, the shadow of Finn lingers over her. Both characters are dealing with complex issues, and Nowlin treats all of these with complete sensitivity and authenticity.
This is a character-driven novel in every sense, and it’s clear that Nowlin cares immensely for her characters. Autumn and Finn are extremely authentic in their thoughts and motivations. The secondary characters are given a great deal of life as well, each with their own backstory and desires. It’s rare to see this kind of detail given to a cast this large, but it works spectacularly here.
More sophisticated readers will likely be left with more questions than others at the end of the novel, but it should be enjoyable for them all the same. Autumn is, like most narrators, somewhat unreliable, and those who pick up on that fact will be left with some completely unresolved questions. The ending is sad but not unexpected, and this is a novel people will want to talk about afterward.
If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin. Sourcebooks Fire: 2013. Library copy read for the 2013 Cybils.