This is the last kind of story that I would have pegged as hopeful. And joyful. And yet it was.
This isn't the kind of love story that would make it into the romance section, but it's a love story all the same. It's about what it means to be you—a person in the world, existing as a separate unit from others—and what it means to discover how you can love the unit that is you.
Stella and Simon have been together for over 20 years. Their marriage has followed the track of Simon's desire to be famous, to be a rock star. Now they're in the forties, and Simon is still the same free-wheeling, "no responsibilities" guy and Stella is trying to make him look toward the future, their future.
And then, Stella falls into a coma.
Simon, now forced for the first time to be the adult in their relationship, has to have a reckoning within himself. He becomes more responsible. He starts thinking of Stella, and not just as someone who exists to support him. He starts thinking of his life, and if it is rolling in the direction it needs to go.
And then, Stella wakes up from the coma. But like many coma patients, Stella comes out different than she went in before.
Stella now has an aptitude for painting and drawing, and she's not like she used to be. Simon feels wrong, she feels wrong, and her best friend Libby treats her more like a patient than a friend. Finally looking at her life from an outsider's eyes, Stella realizes that...maybe she doesn't fit in this life anymore.
Libby is Stella's best friend, and she used to hate Simon. Simon was the man-child that never grew up, never paid Stella the attention and love that she was due. But when Stella goes into the coma, Simon changes. Libby can't help but notice that change, and they fall toward each other in their pain.
Stella, Simon, and Libby all have some growing to do—and they might not make it out to the other side as the same people that went in. But sometimes painful growth is good, and self-acceptance is no small element of happiness.
I absolutely adored this novel. To be honest with you, I didn't think I would. I've always struggled to pick up books that scream sadness, and With or Without You definitely gives off that vibe. And I'll be honest, there are some sad parts. That's no joke. But what I didn't expect—and maybe that's on me, for not trusting the author—was the shining hope and self-love. This is a novel that demands a internal reckoning, and it demands that its characters realize that other people cannot complete them. It's a lesson that resonates with its readers too. I know it resonated with me.
A beautiful story, and sharply real. These characters will stay with you when you leave them, and the writing lingers. Fantastic book.
Thank you to Algonquin Books for my copy in exchange for an honest review.
Amy Imogene Reads
Just someone looking for her own door into Wonderland.