Title: Who I Was With Her
Author: Nina Tyndall
TW: Grief, Homophobia, Alcoholism, Parental Neglect
“But maybe I don’t have to figure it all out right now.”
Corinne and Maggie begin what appears to be a blossoming romance – Corinne is coming to terms with the idea of everyone finding out she’s bisexual but she’s head over heels in love with Maggie so feels stronger with her there. But then suddenly, Maggie dies and Corinne is so confounded by grief and yet no one even knew they were together. From messages on her social media to the readings at the funeral, Corinne must silently watch her world fall apart while not being able to admit the sheer weight of it because she insisted on keeping their relationship a secret. Then Elissa walks into her life – Maggie’s ex-girlfriend and just about the only other person who knows what she’s feeling…
It goes without saying that this book is hard and heavy; not only was Maggie’s death so sudden but actually the way Tyndall doesn’t focus much on the event itself, really compounds the silent grief Corinne must endure and the awful feeling of the fact that the rest of the world will just carry on as normal. The portrayal of grief in this book was moving and heart-wrenching and while grief manifests in so many ways in everyone it touches, I loved the messy and unapologetic way Corinne dealt with it. She made plenty of mistakes but that only made this book seem all the more real.
We jump back and forth in time quite a lot in the book, and personally I would have liked to see a bit more of Maggie, perhaps form more of a relationship with her before she dies so the reader can try to feel just an ounce of what Corinne is feeling. I do also think the timeline jumping got a little confusing but actually that’s probably personal preference as I always find that confusing in books!
Aside from the grief element, the book also had some interesting sub-plots about cross-country running, the coming-of-age confusion of deciding where to go to college, Corinne’s struggle with coming out and her sexuality, and also the complicated nature of teenage friendships. I also liked that we saw a bit of the relationship between Corinne and Maggie’s brother as well as the way Corinne navigated her feelings towards Elissa. All parts of the novel brilliantly explored and done with nuance and poise.
With one of the most painfully real depictions of grief, Who I Was With Her paints a tragic and agonising reality but by the end will leave you with a little hope for the future. Far from bubble wrapping their protagonist, Tyndall chooses to show the ugly side of grief and how even at our lowest, we don’t always have the people around us to pull up back up again. That being said, Corinne’s journey was a slow but reassuring one and by the end I felt some closure and contentment and left me with a lot to think about.