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‘I Have Lost My Way’ by Gayle Forman ***

I shall open this review of Gayle Forman’s newest novel, I Have Lost My Way, by saying that despite reading and quite enjoying a couple of her books to date, I have found that they are a little lacking in places.  As with Forman’s other books, I Have Lost My Way – the rather cheesy tagline of which is ‘They lost their way but found each other’ – deals with the notion of fate, and questions how different decisions can have lasting impacts, both on our lives, and the lives of others.

9781471173721The storyline here intrigued me, following as it does three different characters who randomly meet, and then play a huge part in each other’s lives during that single day.  Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel meet one another following an accident in New York’s Central Park, in quite unlikely circumstances; Freya slips from a bridge, falls onto Nathaniel and knocks him out, and then requests the help of passerby Harun to get him to a medical centre.  All three are teenagers, roughly exactly the same age, which makes it feel even more of an unlikely occurrence.  They are also all struggling, in one way or another, with problems which come to light as the novel goes on.

Freya is a singer, who has been signed up by a fame-hungry manager, and deemed the ‘next big thing’.  However, she begins to have problems with her voice during the recording of her first full album.  The book’s blurb, and some of the early narrative, states that she has ‘lost her voice’, but this is not entirely true; rather, she is just unable to hit some notes.  She comes from a fractured family, her father having moved back to the Ethiopian town where he grew up, when she was a young girl, and her sister not speaking to her for reasons to do with Freya’s musical career.

Harun is a young Muslim, with a loving family who worry about him if he is five minutes late getting home after college.  He is keeping a vital secret from his parents and siblings; he is in love with a boy named James, and the pair have been meeting every single Thursday when Harun should be studying.  ‘Thursdays were their day to be together in Manhattan, where they can slip through the streets like ghosts’, writes Forman.  They have just broken up, and so Harun feels rather despondent, unable to concentrate on anything but his memory of James.

Nathaniel is the most mysterious character of the three, having fled to New York from Washington state with the little money he has.  The only inkling we have of his problem at first is that his family have suffered a tragedy, and he had no choice but to escape.  We learn that he had to grow up very quickly indeed after his mother moved away to California, and his grandmother was diagnosed with cancer.

After the three of them quite literally collide with one another, they slowly reveal their pasts, ‘which they have been unable up until now to confront, and together, find their way back to who they’re supposed to be.’  Several chapters encompass all of the characters together, detailing their conversations with one another, and subsequent chapters are then told from the perspectives of Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel.

The levels of trust which the characters exhibit for one another in the space of just a few hours are, frankly, ridiculously unlikely.  Had the narrative unfolded over several weeks, rather than just taking place in the space of a single day, the whole may have been more believable, but this aspect really began to irritate me.

The way in which Forman brought such different and disparate characters together here is an interesting one, but at the same time, it feels so calculated, and thus cannot be fully believed by the reader.  Its ending feels particularly predictable, and whilst the writing was of a good standard throughout, I did not feel as though the character voices were distinctive enough.  In I Have Lost My Way, Forman has clearly been ambitious, but it does not quite pay off.

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One From the Archive: ‘My True Love Gave To Me: Twelve Winter Romances’, edited by Stephanie Perkins ****

I will just highlight the fact that I do not tend to read young adult books at all, but wanted to read something a little different a couple of years ago.  I received a review copy of this, and enjoyed it far more than I first thought.  The moral of the story is read everything, folks.

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Winter Romances features a variety of authors who largely write solely within the Young Adult genre, from contemporary fantasy and the paranormal, to ‘the strange things that love can do to people’.  Edited by Stephanie Perkins, this collection features one of her tales, along with work by Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, David Levithan, Matt de la Pena, Laini Taylor, Jenny Han, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire and Kiersten White. 9781250059314

The blurb of My True Love Gave to Me calls it ‘a gift for teen readers and beyond’.  It is ‘the perfect collection of short stories to keep you warm this winter…  Each is a little gem, filled with the enchanting magic of first love and the fun festive holidays’.  The inspiration within the collection is vast, and whilst all of the authors have used the festive period in their stories, they have done so in decidedly different ways.

Rainbow Rowell’s tale – the lovely ‘Midnights’ – opens the book.  In it, her protagonist, Mags, sits in her friend’s garden on the 31st of December and reflects upon three of her previous New Year’s Eve celebrations.  Each of them revolve around her allergy-prone friend Noel, who is described as ‘her person’; the one whom she turns to in periods of strife.  Rowell’s writing is sharp and her characterisation works marvellously.  In Kelly Link’s interesting ‘The Lady and The Fox’, a mysterious figure in a beautifully embroidered coat befriends a young girl named Miranda during successive Christmas celebrations.

In Matt de la Pena’s ‘Angels in the Snow’, a young man faces spending Christmas alone, hours away from his family.  Jenny Han’s story ‘Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me’ is told from the perspective of Natalie, a Korean who was adopted by Santa, and is the only human girl to live in the North Pole.  In Stephanie Perkins’ ‘It’s a Yuletide Miracle’, protagonist Marigold has gone in search of a boy who works in a Christmas tree lot near her apartment because she ‘needed his voice’ for a project; the sweetest of scenes and most sharply observed conversation ensues.  The narrator of David Levithan’s ‘Your Temporary Santa’ dresses up as Santa Claus to keep the dream alive for his boyfriend’s younger sister, despite being Jewish.  In Holly Black’s ‘Krampuslauf’, a New Year’s Eve celebration converges with a hearty – and clever – dose of magical realism.

Whilst I have not discussed each story here, it is fair to say that there is not a weak link in the collection.  Only two of the stories were not to my personal taste, but they were still interesting to read.  My True Love Gave to Me is both quirky and memorable, and it provides a great introduction to a wealth of different authors writing contemporary YA.  One can never quite work out where the majority of the stories are going to end, or what will occur within them; they are largely very unpredictable, and incredibly sweet. The physical book itself is lovely, with its duck egg blue and gold cover, fluorescent pink page edging and gold ribbon bookmark. My True Love Gave to Me is a great collection, in which many different viewpoints have been considered.  The characters which have been created are both believable and unpredictable, and each narrative voice has been crafted with the utmost care.  It is sure to make every reader – whether teenage or older – feel marvellously festive, and is a great antidote to those winter blues.

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‘I Was Here’ by Gayle Forman ***

American author Gayle Forman is perhaps most famous for her novel If I Stay, which was recently turned into a film.  In her newest novel, I Was Here, she again focuses upon the themes of life and death, and the fine line between the two.  The blurb heralds the novel as ‘Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redeeming the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss’.

The protagonist of I Was Here is eighteen-year-old Cody Reynolds, whose story begins when she learns of the suicide of her best friend, Meg Garcia.  She has ingested a bottle of industrial strength cleaner whilst ‘alone in a motel room’, and Cody is struggling to work out how such an academically intelligent and loving person could have done such a thing.  She is sent by Meg’s distraught parents to gather her belongings from her college room, and in trying to piece together the mystery of Meg’s death whilst she is there, Cody discovers a lot of secrets which had been hidden from her, some of them for years.

Meg, who was living away from home whilst studying at a prestigious college in Washington, ‘was incredibly organised about her suicide’, emailing copies of a suicide letter to her parents and the police, ‘along with another note informing them which motel she was at, which room she was on, what poison she had ingested, and how her body should be safely handled’.  Perhaps most heartbreakingly of all, Meg also sent the emails on a time delay, ‘so that she would be long gone by the time we received them’.

I Was Here is a very easy story to get into.  The whole is well plotted, and we learn more about the sometimes fraught relationship between sisterly Cody and Meg as the book goes on.  Nothing is quite what it seems on the surface.  Cody’s first person narrative voice, the majority of which has been written in the present tense, works really well, and gives a sense of immediacy to the novel.  The mystery element runs throughout, and whilst it does become less compelling and more predictable towards the end, it still serves to keep the reader guessing.

I Was Here feels quite grown up in terms of its themes for what is essentially a young adult novel, and it certainly offers a thought-provoking read for adult readers.  The novel’s characters – particularly Meg – are relatively complex constructions, and Forman continually surprises with their thoughts and actions.  Whilst I Was Here is not as good a novel as If I Stay, it still offers an interesting plot, a voyage of personal discovery, and a host of memorable characters.  The only thing which lets it down is the rather predictable ending.

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‘My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Winter Romances’ – edited by Stephanie Perkins ****

My True Love Gave to Me: Twelve Winter Romances features a variety of authors who largely write solely within the Young Adult genre, from contemporary fantasy and the paranormal, to ‘the strange things that love can do to people’.  Edited by Stephanie Perkins, this collection features one of her tales, along with work by Rainbow Rowell, Holly Black, Ally Carter, Gayle Forman, David Levithan, Matt de la Pena, Laini Taylor, Jenny Han, Kelly Link, Myra McEntire and Kiersten White.

The blurb of My True Love Gave to Me calls it ‘a gift for teen readers and beyond’.  It is ‘the perfect collection of short stories to keep you warm this winter…  Each is a little gem, filled with the enchanting magic of first love and the fun festive holidays’. The inspiration within the collection is vast, and whilst all of the authors have used the festive period in their stories, they have done so in decidedly different ways.

Rainbow Rowell’s tale – the lovely ‘Midnights’ – opens the book.  In it, her protagonist, Mags, sits in her friend’s garden on the 31st of December and reflects upon three of her previous New Year’s Eve celebrations.  Each of them revolve around her allergy-prone friend Noel, who is described as ‘her person’; the one whom she turns to in periods of strife.  Rowell’s writing is sharp and her characterisation works marvellously.  In Kelly Link’s interesting ‘The Lady and The Fox’, a mysterious figure in a beautifully embroidered coat befriends a young girl named Miranda during successive Christmas celebrations.

In Matt de la Pena’s ‘Angels in the Snow’, a young man faces spending Christmas alone, hours away from his family.  Jenny Han’s story ‘Polaris is Where You’ll Find Me’ is told from the perspective of Natalie, a Korean who was adopted by Santa, and is the only human girl to live in the North Pole.  In Stephanie Perkins’ ‘It’s a Yuletide Miracle’, protagonist Marigold has gone in search of a boy who works in a Christmas tree lot near her apartment because she ‘needed his voice’ for a project; the sweetest of scenes and most sharply observed conversation ensues.  The narrator of David Levithan’s ‘Your Temporary Santa’ dresses up as Santa Claus to keep the dream alive for his boyfriend’s younger sister, despite being Jewish.  In Holly Black’s ‘Krampuslauf’, a New Year’s Eve celebration converges with a hearty – and clever – dose of magical realism.

Whilst I have not discussed each story here, it is fair to say that there is not a weak link in the collection.  Only two of the stories were not to my personal taste, but they were still interesting to read.  My True Love Gave to Me is both quirky and memorable, and it provides a great introduction to a wealth of different authors writing contemporary YA.  One can never quite work out where the majority of the stories are going to end, or what will occur within them; they are largely very unpredictable, and incredibly sweet. The physical book itself is lovely, with its duck egg blue and gold cover, fluorescent pink page edging and gold ribbon bookmark. My True Love Gave to Me is a great collection, in which many different viewpoints have been considered.  The characters which have been created are both believable and unpredictable, and each narrative voice has been crafted with the utmost care.  It is sure to make every reader – whether teenage or older – feel marvellously festive, and is a great antidote to those winter blues.

Purchase from The Book Depository