I have loved Gayle Forman’s work since I read If I Stay in one sitting and then literally woke up a member of my family in the middle of the night to borrow their Kindle (which is a huge deal for me because I am anti e-reader because I’m a purist/snob and refuse to read on one) so I could immediately read Where She Went. I have also enjoyed her lesser known titles, I Was Here, Sisters In Sanity, and her popular Just One Day series. A lot of people criticized the movie adaptation of If I Stay, but I liked it. I thought it lacked the depth and some of the emotion the book evoked, but it’s hard for that to translate from page to screen.
Maribeth Klein runs her life with precision and efficiency, and has day-to-day life constantly and carefully planned out. She has a loving husband, Jason, adorable twins Oliver and Liv, and a job she enjoys at the popular magazine Frap. While she is busy living her life, she begins to experience a series of odd health symptoms that she ignores and attributes to what she ate or just the stress of her life as a working mother and wife. She continues to ignore her worsening symptoms, and goes to see her OB/GYN for her annual check up as planned. While being examined she begins to feel even worse and suddenly collapses. She’s rushed to the ER where she is told she has had a heart attack. Maribeth doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation until she is told she needs an angioplasty done immediately to open up the artery that is damaged.
While undergoing the angioplasty, things don’t go as planned, and she is quickly put under anesthesia and it’s not until she wakes up a while later that she discovers that things were worse than her doctors thought and despite being only 44, she has had open heart bypass surgery. The information leaves her reeling, and for the first time in her life she begins to wonder about her biological parents. What if what has just happened to her is hereditary and could be passed down to her own children?
After she spends the appropriate amount of time in the hospital, she comes home feeling weak, frail, and most of all, afraid. She is afraid that something will go wrong again and she will die, leaving her children and husband alone forever. Aside from the fear she feels, she begins to feel like everyone around her expects her to be up and around too quickly and they do not appreciate the toll what she has just been through has taken on her both mentally and physically.
Then the idea comes to her: what if I just leave? So without much hesitation, she does. She drains her savings account and drives to Pittsburgh where she was born and then put up for adoption, and decides it’s a good place to hide from her life and possibly search for her birth mother. She ditches her cellphone or any other means of communication, finds a furnished apartment she can rent, and for the first time for as long as she can remember, she is not under some deadline, has no one depending on her, and she relishes being able to not have to live her life scheduled to the minute.
She quickly makes friends with her young neighbors, Todd and Sunny, and starts joining their weekly trips to the market. She also tries to find a cardiologist with whom she can follow up with that won’t require her medical history and will allow her to pay in cash. After a failed attempt with one doctor, she finds Dr. Stephen Grant. She’s wary of him, his small practice, and his willingness to accept her cash payment, but finds him to be a nice and thorough doctor.
After several visits, the two become friendly and Maribeth learns more about Dr. Stephen: why he has such a small practice and why he is single despite him being an attractive and charming man.
Maribeth decides to begin the search for her birth mother, and while doing so, meets Janice. Janice runs a non-profit that helps children of adoption find their birth parents, and offers to help Maribeth get the information she longs for. Over the course of their search, she and Janice become friends.
After exhausting the last of her willpower, she finally goes to the library and uses a computer there to check her e-mail. She expects to find frantic, worried e-mails from Jason, or her best friend/boss Elizabeth, but finds nothing of the sort. Part of her is relieved, but part of her feels like the lack of messages means that those who claim to love her could not care less that she has disappeared, leaving only a note behind.
Although she’s still grappling with her mixed emotions about the lack of e-mails, she goes on about her new quiet life in Pittsburgh. She grows increasingly close to the new friends she has made and starts to regain some of her strength and begins to feel somewhat healthy again. She knows the time away is good for her, but she worries about her children she left behind and hopes that they will someday understand why she had to go away.
What ensues is a story about finding yourself, letting go of the impossibly high standards we often hold ourselves to, and learning that ignoring the past doesn’t make it go away. The novel explores love, friendship, marriage, motherhood, and coming to terms with the fact that no one can lead a perfect life no matter how hard they try.
Anyone who has ever felt overwhelmed by their life will identify with the main character, and will enjoy following her on her journey. It doesn’t quite pack the emotional punch that her previous novels have, however it’s an enjoyable read none the less and steadily keeps your attention until the last page. I would recommend it and I think it will appeal to fans of Emily Giffin or Jennifer Weiner.
Don’t forget! Coming soon, my interview with best-selling author of the Pretty Little Liars series and many other best-sellers, Sara Shepard. I’ll also be reviewing her new book, The Amateurs.
Also coming soon, interview with author of In Twenty Years, Allison Winn Scotch. All of that and many more reviews of amazing books coming your way, so stay tuned!