I'm always reading something, usually multiple books at a time.
This book is a thing of beauty. I want to crawl into it. But first, I'll back up and discuss the first book, If I Stay. Do not read this review if you haven't read the first book!
In If I Stay, Mia Hall spends most of her first-person narrative with her physical body in a coma while she wanders the hospital and makes a decision: Stay or go. Early on, she has heard a nurse tell her grandparents that she, Mia, is running the show--making the decision on whether to stay in her body and return to her life (such as it would be after the deaths of her parents and little brother). The narrative moves back and forth between memories and Mia witnessing her grandparents, boyfriend Adam, best friend Kim, and others as they speak with her comatose body or interact with one another.
There are many lovely moments, such as Mia's grandfather quietly telling her that if she wants to go, he understands. Kim sits with her and tells her that she still has a family--and something about what Kim tells her, in favor of choosing to stay, convinces Mia that it would be okay to go. She feels certain that Kim "will be okay" (not "would be okay") without Mia. She seems to have decided not to stay. But Adam is the one who turns things around. In part, he promises that if she needs him to let go of her, in order for her to stay and live, he would hate it but he would let go. And what clinches it for her is music. Mia is a talented cellist whose Julliard audition went very well, and Adam is in an "emo core" punk band; they're a musical odd couple. After urging her to stay, Adam put earbuds in her ears and plays Yo Yo Ma for her on his iPod. And Mia suddenly finds herself back in her body, willing herself to squeeze the hand Adam is holding hers with. And.... that's where the book stops. If I hadn't been able to transition right to Where She Went, I might have knocked my rating down to three stars (from the four I gave it).
Where She Went does not pick up where If I Stay left off. Instead, it jumps three years into the future. Adam narrates, and his life looks enviable from the outside. His band has become a phenomenon, he's a bona fide rock star, and he lives in Los Angeles with his girlfriend, a famous actress named Bryn. But he can't seem to enjoy anything and relies on anti-anxiety meds and cigarettes to get through each day. Echoing the structure of If I Stay, Adam moves between what is currently happening and memories, slowly filling in the three years since the end of the first book, as well as reaching back into his recollections about meeting and falling in love with Mia.
When Adam is in New York City, poised to travel to London to meet his band for a recording session before their European tour begins, he happens to see an advertisement for a concert Mia is performing that night. On impulse, he goes to the box office and buys a "rush" ticket. And to his surprise at the end of the concert, an usher approaches to let him know that Mia wants to see him backstage.
It's been three years since he's seen Mia, and he's fantasized about having the chance to see her again. Will he find out why she withdrew from him once she went to Julliard? If she explains, will he understand?
I won't spoil the ending, but I will say that it's satisfying and earned. The characterization is wonderful--no one feels cliched, though it could have gone that way. I'll definitely seek out more works by Gayle Forman.