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“If He Had Been With Me” is a heartbreaking coming of age must-read (Op-Ed)

As of late, I haven’t been able to read a book that’s truly tugged at the heartstrings and allowed me to emotionally invest in characters- especially those that are going through one of the most tumultuous times of life, with some of the most difficult choices and circumstances relating to their development: high school. 

“If He Had Been With Me” (IHHBWM) by Laura Nowlin singlehandedly and effortlessly swept away this notion. Her novel, released in 2013, follows the story of Autumn Davis and Phineas “Finn” Smith, childhood best friends who slowly grow apart despite in their adolescence as they discover their passions, interests, personalities, friend groups, and romantic connections from childhood, to junior high, to the arena that is high school. 

Narrated from Autumn’s perspective, we get a first-hand look at her self-discovery over the course of four years, pursuing a relationship with someone who, on paper, should be her perfect match; charismatic, handsome, and kind Jamie Allen, the ringleader of their self-proclaimed group of misfits.  Finn, on his own terms, has embraced a life of athleticism and popularity, entering a relationship with the elusive and controversial Silvie. 

Their paths should not cross, but they continue to find a place for each other in their lives through their mothers’ endearing and lifelong friendship, as well as their proximity as next-door neighbors. 

As the story progresses and their characters grow, mature, and change, Autumn and Finny’s bond is beautifully and subtly portrayed through gentle, realistic dialogue and reminiscent, nostalgic scenes of childhood that anyone who has had a best friend can relate to. 

Coupled with a quite realistic view of high school from a teenage girl’s perspective, as well as the support and enrichment to the story from an array of secondary characters, “If He Had Been With Me” is a gorgeous story that will have you feeling everything and nothing at once by its conclusion, weaving a narrative that is sure to be nothing but improved by its sequel “If Only I Had Told Her”- the next story on my list.


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