If he had been with me review: Simple is not always better

Sasha Vinobaharan, Staff Writer

Only a few pages into the prologue of If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin, readers are hit with a jarring yet interesting revelation: this book is not a typical romance novel. Instead, we immediately learn that Finny, the presumed love interest, has passed away in a mysterious car accident, and that our narrator Autumn is left to grapple with her guilt. I was quickly intrigued, as the anticipation of learning the full context of Finny’s death presented a successful hook and compelled me to continue reading the book.

After the shocking prologue, If He Had Been With Me begins with the years before the incident. The story revolves around the lives of Autumn and Finny, childhood friends who once had an unbreakable bond but drift apart once high school begins. Told through Autumn’s perspective, the story takes readers through a journey of a teenager battling with internal and societal expectations. Eventually, Autumn and Finny find their way back to each other and fall in love—only to be separated again by Finny’s death, which finally gives readers context to the foreshadowing in the prologue that lured them into the story.

However, the captivating hook gives a false pretense to the otherwise bland plot of the book. The writing was monotonous, which could be an attempt to explain Autumn’s mentality, but instead made the book feel flat. If Nowlin was attempting to make Autumn relatable to her readers, she went about it terribly, as Autumn’s narrative felt incredibly repetitive.

While I cherished the  rare moments between Autumn and Finny that aided in ultimately bringing the two together in the end, the entire plot felt pointless. Characters who should have been irrelevant were mentioned so many times that it became frustrating. The uninteresting drama of Autumn’s friends took too much time away from the main characters. Autumn’s personality was also only shown through her relationship with her friends, which made her character drab and uninteresting.

I will say, however, I was satisfied when Autumn and Finny finally realized their romantic love for each other. Finny’s death at the end of the novel—an event I had been dreading—was heart-wrenching. Although the ending was rushed, it left the events afterward intriguing and shrouded in mystery.

This book could have been better without the unnecessary characters and drama, but it certainly takes a unique twist on the classic childhood best friends to lovers trope. The book pulled at my heartstrings and left me grieving the characters as if I knew them personally, but also left me wanting to skip through some tedious plot lines. In my opinion, If He Had Been With Me should be read once, but never again.