Pre-read: I'm so happy I was approved for the galley of this, looking forward to reading it. Also, look at the cover! o_O It's beautiful.
Post-read: Solid read, if a bit fragmented in places. I liked Autumn's journey, even if I had an idea of how most things would happen.
"If He Had Been With Me" is a journey that's immersed around a tragedy, and that's something you get from point one in this book by Laura Nowlin. It surprised me how it drew me into the narrative even when I knew how things would turn out as the story unfolded, but the emotional clarity and resonance is solid throughout, which makes it a strong read in the measure of grief, coming of age, and coping.
Autumn and Finn were neighbors and close friends growing up, until a respective falling out distanced them over time. The narrative here follows Autumn through high school and a little beyond graduation. Autumn has her own relationship with Jamie, while Finn has his relationship with Sylvie. The narrative goes through their respective life events, covering four years of high school, a little bit after that, and certain turning points in their past and present from Autumn's perspective. Even when I knew what would eventually happen, I enjoyed watching the journey of this novel because of the emotional clarity and coherence in Autumn's perspective. She was well worth following. I did think there was a bit of a distance in the narrative in some points with some roughness in transition with respect to the time jumps, but in terms of it being a story of grief, it was a good one.
The collective cast of characters here felt very realistic and drawn well in their interactions with each other. I think the only part I found myself struggling with more towards the end was somewhat of the jumping point in the aftermath of the tragedy - almost like it could've gone a little further in terms of resolution, though it gives some note of Autumn attempting to come to terms with things. I enjoyed it and certainly wouldn't hesitate to read more from Nowlin in the future.
Overall score: 3.5/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher.