We Are Inevitable: A Review

We Are Inevitable by Gayle FormanAaron Stein doesn’t really believe in happy endings or new beginnings.

It’s impossible to think those things can happen to him when he’s slowly falling apart. Aaron’s older brother is dead, his family is drowning in the debt they incurred paying for stints in rehab and trying to treat the overdose that killed him. Aaron is ostensibly the owner of the family bookstore, Bluebird Books, but he doesn’t care about it the way his father Ira does or even the way his mother did before the divorce.  Aaron knows the decrepit store is on its way out just like the dinosaurs he’s been reading about obsessively.

The crack in the bookshelf feels like the last straw, the sign Aaron has been waiting for to cut his losses, to sell the store, to move on.

But then his old classmate Chad drops by the store and asks about a wheelchair ramp so he can navigate the entrance. What starts as an old board thrown over the steps becomes an actual ADA accessible ramp when the out of work lumberjacks see what Aaron is doing and decide to help.

Then the lumberjacks see the cracked shelf. And they want to repair it because that kind of shelving is quality. Then they’re fixing the other shelves because they’re already there. And updating the store layout so Chad can fit his chair into the aisles. Then they’re adding a record section. Chad is running an inventory. There’s an espresso machine, a café.

Then there’s Hannah, the band lead Aaron meets at a show with Chad who feels like she could be exactly who Aaron needs.

Suddenly, the downward spiral that was Aaron’s life doesn’t feel so inevitable. There might even be something like hope in the air.

The only problem is Aaron already sold the store. And he’ll have to confront everything that led him to this latest choice–and lot of others from his past–if he wants to give the bookstore and his fractured family one more chance in We Are Inevitable (2021) by Gayle Forman.

Find it on Bookshop.

We Are Inevitable is a standalone contemporary set near the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. The audiobook is narrated by Sunil Malhotra. Most characters are presumed white.

There’s no getting around this, so I’m just going to say it: We Are Inevitable is a heavy book. Aaron and his father are despondent and depressed at the start of the novel. Themes of addiction and recovery play important roles in the plot as Aaron learns about love interest Hannah and also as he begins to come to terms with his brother’s overdose.

Forman presents a melancholy but deliberate look at addiction with respect for all parties involved despite Aaron’s initial hard line response. The financial hardship and Ira’s anxiety (which manifests a panic attack in an early chapter) add further tension to an already fraught story. Moments of humor alleviate some of the story’s weight but you have been warned.

Readers willing to come along for the ride with We Are Inevitable will be rewarded with a story that is ultimately hopeful both for Aaron and his family as well as for the unlikely independent bookstore that keeps trucking along.

Possible Pairings: Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley, Last Chance Books by Kelsey Rodkey, Recommended For You by Laura Silverman, Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher, Our Chemical Hearts by Krystal Sutherland

*An advance listening copy of this title was provided by the publisher through Libro.fm*

Just One Day: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Just One Day by Gayle FormanAfter a whirlwind tour through Europe, Allyson is looking forward to returning home and starting college in the fall. Even if it means missing Paris and even if the tour wasn’t everything Allyson thought it would be.

Two days before she is set to return home, Allyson sees an underground production of Twelfth Night that unexpectedly changes everything.

Accompanied by a laid-back Dutch actor named Willem as her guide, Allyson spends a whirlwind day in Paris where, finally, Allyson understands what her European tour was meant to feel like. As she and Willem grow closer, Allyson starts to understand what a lot of things are supposed to feel like.

At least, she thought she did.

When Allyson wakes up the next day to find Willem already gone, Allyson’s previous certainty shatters.

Starting college in the wake of Willem’s abrupt departure, Allyson starts to fall apart. She knows what is expected of her. She even knows most of what’s wrong. But she has no idea what she wants. No idea how to fix anything.

One day gave Allyson the chance to change everything even if it meant losing Willem. With one year, Allyson might be able to finally find herself in Just One Day (2013) by Gayle Forman.

Just One Day is the first novel in a duet. Willem’s story, Just One Year is set to publish in fall 2013.

Forman expertly chronicles Allyson’s self-destruction during her first semester of college as well as her efforts to start fresh (with a tabula rasa, if you will) in the following term. Allyson’s changing relationships with her family and friends are also handled well in the story.

Filled with travel and a variety of settings, Just One Day is a vivid trip through Europe filled with descriptions of all of the sights Allyson takes in over the course of her story. I also loved the inclusion of so many Shakespeare references as counterpoints to Allyson’s experiences. The underlying buoyancy and serendipity of the story is refreshing as (after the obligatory wallowing) Allyson works on moving forward.

Told over the course of one whirlwind day and the subsequently turbulent year, Just One Day is ostensibly a love story–or at least a story of lost love. Except it’s also a more than that. Knowing that the book is part of a duet, there will of course be answers about Willem’s disappearance and his own feelings about Allyson. However, by the end of the story, that’s very secondary to the story of Allyson finding herself and figuring out what she wants.

Possible Pairings: The Best Night of Your (Pathetic) Life by Tara Altebrando, City Love by Susane Colasanti, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, In a Perfect World by Trish Doller, Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo, Stranger in the Forest by Eric Hansen, Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope by Maureen Johnson, Summer in the Invisible City by Juliana Romano, Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris, As You Like It by William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare, The Statistical Probability of True Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith, How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr, Roomies by Sara Zarr and Tara Altebrando, Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac by Gabrielle Zevin

Where She Went: A Review

Where She Went by Gayle FormanThree years ago Mia made a choice. Her boyfriend Adam was prepared to let Mia go if it meant she would be okay. He thought that would be enough.

Three years later: Adam knows he was wrong.

Mia is gone. She left. She’s on the opposite coast at Juilliard just like she should be with her bright star on the rise. She walked away from Adam and never looked back.

Adam is living in LA. He’s dating a beautiful actress. He’s partly responsible for his band’s meteoric rise to rock stardom. He has everything he ever wanted. Except without Mia none of it seems to matter.

Three years ago an accident changed Mia and Adam’s lives forever.

Three years later an accidental meeting in New York City will change everything all over again in Where She Went (2011) by Gayle Forman.

Find it on Bookshop.

Where She Went is the sequel to Forman’s poignant novel If I Stay.

Narrated by Adam (If I Stay was written in Mia’s voice), Where She Went follows a similar structure to its predecessor. Chapters written in the present tense explaining Adam’s current state and the central plot alternate with chapters written in the past tense (prefaced by song lyrics from the album that launched Adam into the world of rock stardom) relate key events that led him to this point. These looks at Adam’s past also answer a simple question about Mia, namely: where she went three years ago.

In addition to looking at Adam’s evolving relationship with Mia, Forman does something really hard in this story. She looks at recovery and rehabilitation without glossing over the messy parts. And she does it really well.

When I finished If I Stay I thought it was a perfect book. Forman’s sparse writing is poetic and beautiful and so painfully heartfelt. The ending made perfect sense. Even with a tragedy at the core of its plot If I Stay remains one of the most gorgeously optimistic books I’ve ever read.

Where She Went is all of that but, somehow, also more. It’s an evocative look at New York City. It’s a story about love and loss. It’s charming, it’s funny, it’s moving. In short, Where She Went is everything readers want not only in a sequel but also in any good novel.

Possible Pairings: Now and Forever by Susane Colasanti, Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, Open Road Summer by Emery Lord, Falling Through Darkness by Carolyn MacCullough, The Piper’s Son by Melina Marchetta*, The Edge of Falling by Rebecca Serle, Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

*I know this is a total pain because The Piper’s Son is another sequel and you’ll need to read Saving Francesca in addition. BUT I was struck while reading at how similar The Piper’s Son and Where She Went are in terms of voice, structure, and just general vibe. I can guarantee 100% that if you enjoy one you will enjoy the other. Trust me.

Exclusive Bonus Content: I really loved the original cover for If I Stay but the new cover for the paperback edition and the cover of Where She Went have grown on me. At one point in this book Adam says Mia has quiet good looks that have always been devastating for him. I can’t tell you how much I love that line. The model on this cover, in my view, captures the essence of that kind of beauty. Anyway. I like it. Props to designer Abby Kuperstock and Selina De Maeyer who took the cover photo.

You should also check out Gayle Forman’s blog for the official Where She Went playlist. Awesome!

If I Stay: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

“Everyone thinks it was because of the snow. And in a way, I suppose that’s true.”

If I Stay by Gayle FormanWhen Mia and her family go out for a drive that snowy morning, none of them realize everything is about to change in If I Stay (2009) by Gayle Forman. It was a freak accident. A random act. But suddenly, a truck swerves into their car. The next thing Mia knows she is staring down at the dead bodies of her mother and father. She can’t find her younger brother, Teddy. What Mia does find is her own broken body being rushed to a hospital.

Before the accident Mia had a lot of decisions to make about her future. Should she follow her first love–music–to Juilliard in New York? Should she stay on the West Coast to be with her boyfriend? But after the accident, Mia only has one choice. Should she stay?

Readers learn about Mia’s past while she tries to make this impossible decision. Present scenes of Mia watching her body at the hospital are interspersed with snapshot flashbacks of the life Mia used to have: discovering the Cello, meeting her best friend and her boyfriend, and memories of her idyllic family. Separated from the “current” story of the plot these segments could almost be jewel-like short stories on their own.

Mia’s relationship to music adds another dimension to the story and makes it a likely choice for musicians. The romantic aspect of the story is another strong point. Finally, it’s probably a really good choice for anyone who has found themselves waiting for good news outside and Intensive Care Unit.

I barely have enough words to say how much I loved If I Stay. Everything about this book is beautiful from the cover to last line. There was an authenticity to the hospital side of things that was simultaneously jarring and comforting. At the same time, this is also a wonderful story. Forman’s writing is lovely, evoking all of the characters in vivid detail throughout the story.While Mia’s loss is devastating, the story ultimately also has a calming quality that only helps to underscore the beauty of the writing and comfort readers that, no matter what her decision, Mia will find peace.

Possible Pairings: The Vanishing Season by Jodi Lynn Anderson, The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban, Fracture by Megan Miranda, Road to Perdition (movie or graphic novel)