Title: Who I Was With Her
Author: Nita Tyndall
Date published: September 15, 2020
There are two things that Corinne Parker knows to be true: that she is in love with Maggie Bailey, the captain of the rival high school’s cross-country team and her secret girlfriend of a year, and that she isn’t ready for anyone to know she’s bisexual.
But then Maggie dies, and Corinne quickly learns that the only thing worse than losing Maggie is being left heartbroken over a relationship no one knows existed. And to make things even more complicated, the only person she can turn to is Elissa — Maggie’s ex and the single person who understands how Corinne is feeling.
As Corinne struggles to make sense of her grief and what she truly wants out of life, she begins to have feelings for the last person she should fall for. But to move forward after losing Maggie, Corinne will have to learn to be honest with the people in her life…starting with herself.
I ended up rating this book 3 stars on GR immediately after reading, but the more I think about this book, the more annoyed I get about it, so that rating may change. I didn’t know much about this book going into it so I didn’t really have any expectations about what story to expect, but it still felt like a huge letdown because the book introduced so many complex issues but never managed to flesh any of them out fully. This book deals with a lot, including a first time sapphic relationship, coming out, alcoholism, grief, college, strained family relationships, and more, but none of these reached their full potential for me.
Let’s start with the coming out issue, because that’s the biggest problem I had with this story. Maggie is Corrine’s first girlfriend, and throughout the book she struggles to come to terms with her bisexuality first within herself and then continues to be terrified to come out because of what people will think of her. The book continually mentions Corrine’s terror at the thought of people finding out about her and Maggie, but never really delves into why she was so scared. Whenever pressed by other characters, she simply says “I don’t know” or trails off or changes the subject. We are told that the community she lives in is small and Southern, but personally I didn’t get a real sense of terror that wasn’t just manufactured for the sake of this plotline.
I was also really annoyed by the storyline that emerged about Maggie having pressured Corrine to come out. This made no sense to me because Maggie didn’t seem to be out to many people either, including her parents, so I was confused as to why she was pressuring Corrine to do something she knew she wasn’t ready for when she hadn’t even told everyone in her life. The timeline also made it feel off, because Corrine takes a while to realize she’s bisexual, and it felt weirdly paced to have Maggie start pressuring her to come out to everyone right after. I know the author is queer so I feel really bad saying this, but this felt unnatural to the story and I think it would’ve made more sense for Maggie to be supportive, especially because this part isn’t revealed until about 50% of the way through. That part of the plot felt like something a straight editor wanted put in to make it more understandable to straight people about why Corrine wasn’t out. Not every queer story needs to be about coming out, especially when it’s coming from pressure from other people.
I honestly did not really see the chemistry between Maggie and Corrine either. They’re both runners, but Corrine makes it clear all along that she’s not nearly as passionate about running as Maggie and is basically continuing to reassure her father and keep Maggie’s memory alive. The title of the book may be called WHO I WAS WITH HER, but I’m not really sure who Corrine was with Maggie that was so different from her before or after, because she continued pursuing something she had no passion for or interest in. She was still unsure of herself and very scared of other people’s opinions and unsure of what she wanted to do.
That uncertainty was also the only memorable or notable thing about Maggie’s personality or character, in my opinion. The whole book talks about how she doesn’t know if she wants to run in college, she doesn’t know what she wants to do other than possibly chemistry or science, which is not explored or show, she doesn’t know, doesn’t know, doesn’t know. I get that the message of the book is that it’s okay not to plan your whole life out and figure out what you want to do, but no other options other than going to college or staying are explored, and we don’t know Corrine outside of running, which she doesn’t even like. Corrine’s doubts and uncertainty might be realistic, but it was not interesting to read about and took away a lot of passion that the book had the potential for.
The family relationships were another thing I wanted more resolution and information on that were not truly resolved. Corrine’s mom is an alcoholic, which is delved into a little bit, but when the book ends, Corrine still feels that she needs to take care of her mother and be around for her and the conversation with her father about her mom’s alcoholism is very short and glossed over. Corrine’s relationship with both parents is strained throughout the whole story, and it ended up feeling like a loose end by the time the book ended. The whole ending felt very abrupt because there was not a lot of interaction shown with the characters to make it feel like each issue was resolved, and everything seemed to happen too quickly and neatly.
I do think this book was a very accurate, honest portrayal of grief. Corrine is complex in how she feels and deals with her grief, much more than other parts of her character. Having gone through grief over the death of a friend, I could really relate to some of the messier parts of Corrine’s grieving process, and liked how the author portrayed her struggle of centering her own grief over other people’s and how other people perceived her more selfish ways of dealing with her grief. The way the book was written also captured Corrine’s grief well, as it was perfectly melancholy with hints of lyricism and poeticness that worked well to express Corrine’s emotions.
All this said, I will admit I managed to read this book in a short night and morning. I did like that it had very short chapters, which made a story about such big issues and heavy emotions more manageable. I kept reading because there were a lot of aspects of Corrine’s experience with grief that I related to, and readers who have lost someone will likely feel similarly. It’s also good for anyone looking for affirming bi rep, despite the issues I had with the coming out storyline. This is one I would recommend to fans of Jandy Nelson and Nina LaCour for the writing style and subject matter.
Though I did not love this book, I do hope it finds its way into the hands of bi and sapphic readers who need it.