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August 14, 2020

With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

I discovered Caroline Leavitt several years ago when I read Is This Tomorrow (read my review). I haven't picked up any of her books in the intervening years, but I always remember that it was a profound read. When I saw With or Without You at NetGalley, I decided it was time to add more Leavitt to my reading. I was not disappointed.
Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

With or Without You
August 2020; Algonquin Books; 978-1616207793
audio, ebooks, print (288 pages); literary fiction
With or Without You
 is a deep-dive into the human psyche and how our desires shape our relationships.

The story revolves mainly around Stella, Simon, and Stella's friend Libby. Stella and Simon's 20-year relationship is in trouble. What once held them together is starting to crack and crumble. Simon is still chasing the rockstar dream he's had since he was a child. Stella is ready to be a "grown up"; she wants to buy their apartment and maybe have a child. The tipping point comes as Simon is on the cusp of something big and Stella doesn't want to travel with him like she did when they were younger. In hopes of reconnecting, and stop the argument they seemed to be always having, Stella agrees to take the little pill Simon offers her. And life for both of them is changed forever.

While there is some tension around whether Stella will awake from her coma, the story is really character-driven as we see the changes that occur in Simon, Stella, and Libby - changes in their feelings, desires, and who they thought they were. 

On the surface, there was a number of things I didn't like and if I was looking for a surface read I probably wouldn't have continued reading it after the first few chapters. 

In a lot of ways, these three characters are the same. They came from rocky childhoods where they didn't feel like they were loved by their parents and thus always chasing acceptance and approval. I would have preferred that they didn't all have parent-issues and I think it is the reason I didn't really connect with the characters. I felt sorry for the characters but I kind of wanted to shout at them "get over it". Thankfully, by the end, all three of them were able to come to terms with their pasts. 

Another plot point was predictable. I knew it was going to happen and I was disappointed in the characters' choices that led to it. 

I can't really say I enjoyed this story. I don't think "being an enjoyable read" is the actual goal of this story. I think it is meant to make you think and it accomplished that. I wasn't looking for a surface read that was only meant to entertain. I wanted something deeper, and having experienced similar feelings with Is This Tomorrow, I knew that if I stuck with it that I would get what I was looking for. 

Having three characters with similar backgrounds provided opportunities to see how our choices affect our lives. Even the predictable plot point gave food for thought and I wondered about life-long commitment and love. 

I think With or Without You would make for an excellent book club discussion. There is a lot to unpack in this novel from Stella's coma-induced personality changes to why are you willing to make changes in your life to please one person but don't for another to child perceptions of events and relationships to is it right to keep secrets if you think it is in the best interest of another person.

Buy With or Without You at Amazon

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Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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