Review: Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Posted: August 22, 2014 in Reviews
Tags: , ,

This review was originally posted at West of Mars. It is being posted here, at its new permanent home.

I can’t even remember where or when I heard about Gayle Forman’s Where She Went. It is the sequel to If I Stay, which seems to have been a pretty important book, given the way people talk about it.

If I Stay wasn’t Rock Fiction. Or it didn’t seem to be from its description. But Where She Went? Let’s see: Adam Wilde is a rock star and Mia is a rising star on the cello.
While I call the genre Rock Fiction, I never insisted that every musical angle be rock and roll. It’s just got to be about music. And let’s face it: Rock Fiction sounds way better than Music Fiction. That makes this a double-header, right?

Not so fast. First, let’s talk about the story. Adam is our leading man. When the book opens, he’s wallowing in some sort of pity party and grief all rolled up into one pathetic, medicated package of angst and cliché. He is all but impossible to like.

Then, on a self-destruction escapade, he runs into Mia. Wow, what a coincidence! And she invites him back into her life even though she’d walked out on him years before. Nevermind that it was part of some sick promise he’d made without really meaning it and has never been able to get past.

And what do you know, but she’s headed out on a farewell tour of all her private haunts around New York, so she brings Adam along. It’s like someone flips a switch of his Xanax has finally kicked in because he is suddenly bearable.

I wanted to stop and ask him if he was serious. All this over a girl?

Yup. His entire world revolves around Mia. Her life revolves around herself and her need to escape her past. Which, of course, includes Adam. And, of course, can’t be run away from.

Definitely not a plotline that I’m excited to explore. The Adam in the beginning almost made me put the book down – there’s little I hate more than pathetic characters, and Adam is the most pathetic I’ve seen in a long time. But Mia? I didn’t like her, either. She dominates, dragging Adam around the city but still keeping her secrets, like they are the only glue holding them together. She comes off as controlling and manipulative, but everyone around her acts like she’s more fragile than a robin’s egg.

Okay, so I don’t have to like a book to be able to view it as Rock Fiction. This book is Rock Fiction from the get-go. Part of Adam’s misery has pushed him to the point where he is ready to quit his band. He hates them, and it seems like they hate him back. But, of course, he’s the sole reason for their success, so they’re all stuck with each other. Except that Adam stays in a separate hotel and travels separately, but they’re all bothered by the fact that interviewers want only Adam and not anyone else in the band. How they all missed the fact that the media fixates on one member of a band—usually the frontman—and why their publicist didn’t prep them, or why the band didn’t choose another spokesman… it makes no sense. It’s a plot device, not something terribly realistic. Not to mention the interviewer who refuses to respect the rules. Hello? Think she’d have a job after word of that got out? Assuming she got past the first question and some security dude or band employee didn’t escort her out from the get-go.

Even though the book is about Adam and his relationship with his band in the early pages, it’s not until late in the book that this feels like Rock Fiction, even though we see glimpses of Adam’s rock and roll lifestyle all along. It just doesn’t ring true. The band’s success is too fast, too meteoric, too easy, but at the same time, there’s the usual fictional contradiction of the really recognizable rocker who walks around New York City without a bodyguard, and the few people who do recognize Adam keep their distance.

What about Mia, the cellist? There’s no music in her, or very little even though we’re told the opposite. While we may see the musical side of Mia onstage, as soon as she puts her bow down, she’s just another prima donna with an overly inflated sense of self, even if that sense of self is projected onto her.

Overall, this wasn’t my favorite. Far from it. This is more of a book about angst and love and connecting and being down than it is Rock Fiction, even though music seems to be such a strong factor shaping the characters. It never stops seeming like a strong factor. It never crosses the line into being.

On to the next.

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