In my "Connecting with Young Adult Novels" workshop at the Teen Literature Conference, I talked about using essential questions to encourage kids to think critically about their reading. One of the essential questions discussed was "How do people overcome adversity?" In addition to seeking justice, doing good works for others and getting support from loved ones, we discussed people pouring themselves into their passions, such as music or art, for solace. No better example can be found to support this idea, than Gale Forman's Where She Went, the sequel to her New York Times best seller If I Stay. Having just finished Where She Went, I am still basking in the euphoria of reading an amazingly powerful and well-written novel.
For those of you who have not read If I Stay, you are in for a double dose of wonderful. Mia, a talented cellist and her family are in the family car when a truck broadsides them, leaving her parents dead and 17-year-old Mia in critical condition. After the accident Mia is standing outside her body beside the wreckage of their car and her parents' corpses, watching herself and her little brother being loaded into the ambulance. As she ponders her state, ("Am I dead? I actually have to ask myself this.") Mia is transported to a hospital where she lies in a coma and reflects on the past and tries to decide whether to fight to live. Through flashbacks, flash-forwards and out-of-body reports on what is going on around her, Mia analyzes the situation. Adam, her boyfriend who leaves his punk rock band's concert to be with her, arrives at the hospital. As he sits by her side, he begs her to stay saying, "If you stay, I'll do whatever you want...I'll even let you go. If you stay."
In Where She Went the story flashes forward three years. Mia is pouring herself into her music career at Julliard, and Adam is a rock star who is close to a nervous breakdown. After Mia goes to New York, she inexplicably stops communicating with Adam, sending him into a deep depression that results in him writing songs for a new album that sky rockets his band to fame and fortune. The album "Collateral Damage" tells Adam and Mia's story. Adam is in New York, dreading his upcoming world tour to support the band's new album, when he happens upon a poster for her concert at Carnegie Hall. Thinking no one will recognize him, he watches the concert from a balcony seat, only to be asked by an usher at the end of the concert to meet Mia backstage. Their reunion is filled with supressed emotion as they spend the rest of the night wandering New York City. When she ultimately reveals the reason she left him, it sparks a cathartic reconnection which is expressed through their music.
Where She Went is a first person narrative told from Adam's point of view. Lyrics from "Collateral Damage" songs that preface many of the chapters are heart breaking, revealing the trajectory of Adam and Mia's relationship. In the band's anthem, "Animate," Adam sings, "First you inspect me, then you dissect me, then you reject me. I wait for the day that you'll resurrect me." Where She Went is the story of that resurrection.