A Teenage Love Story : If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin

By Makala Sanichar

Editor’s Note: Views expressed in this article are

solely the author's opinions and beliefs

If He Had Been With Me by Laura Nowlin is an exploration of friendship, love, and self-discovery that resonates with readers on a deeply emotional level. Nowlin's debut novel takes us on a journey through the complexities of teenage relationships, examining the impact of choices and the bitter nature of missed opportunities.

The story follows the life of Autumn and Finny, two childhood friends who grew up together but find themselves drifting apart as they navigate the challenges of high school. Autumn, the introspective and reserved protagonist, has a secret crush on Finny, a charismatic and popular boy who appears to go through life effortlessly. The novel is structured around a “what if” premise—a compelling narrative device that allows Nowlin to explore the alternate paths the characters could have taken. 

Nowlin's style of writing is a standout feature of the novel, defined by its simplicity and raw honesty. She captures the essence of adolescence with authenticity, portraying the turmoil, self-doubt, and yearning that characterizes this difficult period of life. First-person narration adds a personal touch to the story because it allows readers to witness Autumn's inner thoughts and emotions as she grapples with her unrequited feelings for Finny.

The strength of If He Had Been With Me is its ability to evoke a myriad of emotions. Nowlin skillfully navigates the highs and lows of teenage experiences, from the thrill of first love to the heart-wrenching pain of unspoken feelings. The novel explores the theme of missed opportunities and the consequences of not expressing one's true feelings, a universal concept that resonates with readers of all ages.

The characters in the novel are well-developed and relatable, each grappling with their own insecurities and desires. Autumn's journey of self-discovery is both heartwarming and heartbreaking, as she comes to terms with her own identity and learns to embrace her true self. Finny, on the other hand, serves as a compelling counterpart, illustrating the external pressures and expectations that can shape one's choices.

Notably, the novel also explores themes of friendship. Nowlin captures the complexities of platonic relationships by portraying the ebb and flow of friendships over time. The novel challenges the conventional boundaries between friendship and romantic love, offering a nuanced perspective on the blurred lines that often exist between the two.

While the "what if" premise may seem like a well-trodden path in literature, Nowlin utilizes it with a freshness and sincerity that sets the novel apart. The pacing is well-balanced, keeping the reader engaged and invested in the characters' journeys. The author's ability to seamlessly blend moments of humor, vulnerability, and heartache contributes to the novel's emotional impact.

Hence, If He Had Been With Me is a beautifully-crafted coming-of-age novel that tugs at one’s heartstrings. Laura Nowlin's exploration of love, friendship, and self-discovery is both relatable and thought-provoking. The novel's universal themes, coupled with Nowlin's skillful storytelling, make it a compelling read for anyone who has ever wondered about the roads not taken in matters of the heart.