By Cynthia Ayala
After an eye-opening summer abroad Billie has returned to college life full of complications. Her ex/roommate pretty much ignores her, even if he hits on her while drunk, while her former friend Dahlia pursues her, her damaged mental state warping what it means to love and be loved in return. Can Billie look past those faults and find happiness, even if it means risking her sanity?
Who We Might’ve Been is an exceptional novel because it is so realistic, and the characters are so relatable. The series of novels follows one Billy Dixon as she embarks on her junior year at college. Many of the ups and downs she has encountered throughout the series are brought back through context clues and scene structure, establishing history. It is that established history that makes the story so gripping because the author does not spend time recounting everything, she delivers the history in essential scenes with the minimalist of details give the scenes depth and power. The history between the characters adds context to the story, the characters, and their dynamics with one another, creating an excellent story for the readers. This history serves to make the character very relatable because it defines her actions and her feelings, recounting her struggles and accomplishments in achieving her happiness. That is such a relatable and realistic concept to bring to life, and Pitchford does that beautifully in her style of writing. Her style of writing is incredibly easy to understand while it presents a complex narrative. Who We Might’ve Been is more than just some story about a girl trying to navigate through her decisions and struggles in college; it is about her journey and her health.
Billie suffers from a form of depression and alcohol abuse, and her struggle to take care of herself is impressive. Just because she is on medication and in therapy does not make everything 100% better, it is a struggle, a struggle for her to maintain that health and take care of herself. Moreover, with the complications in her life, it is not easy. For Pitchford to address that and show the struggle is beautiful. It is not only well done, but it is well done with justice, highlighting how medication, while helpful, isn’t a 100% cure like many people think. People need to want to get help, they need to want to be happy, and healthy, but that is not always easy. Billie highlights one end of the spectrum regarding that while Dahlia highlights the other end.
Dahlia is a significant character regarding this because she serves as a foil for Billie. It makes their relationship resonate with the reader because when it comes to the two characters and the development of their relationship, the reader has to be able to believe that the nature of this growth. Dahlia is a toxic individual because she does not want help and has a very warped idea of love. Dahlia does not know what it means to love and be loved, and while Billie wants to stay away, this goodness in her wants to help as well. She understands, she can resonate with Dahlia, thus helping the reader understand her, but this serves as a teaching lesson. Again, someone can only help someone who wants help; one cannot help someone otherwise and the way the story and author both show that is impactful. It can generate empathy on the side of the reader and serve as a powerful teaching moment as well. Billie’s internal narrative is compelling, it is easy to understand, and it helps the reader get a sense through description and tone, of what the author is trying to get at understanding mental illness. Billie may want to help her friend, but by trying to help someone who does not want it, she puts her wellbeing at risk. That is a red alert to readers to look at their own lives. Again, it is a teaching moment that no one should ever sacrifice his or her wellbeing for another’s happiness.
Pitchford also uses Dahlia to address consent, another important topic. With the #MeToo movement on the rise, consent is a hot topic, so addressing it is risky. However, the way the Pitchford does that is by using a female as a violator of consent. Consent goes both ways and women are more than capable of violating this as much as men, so for the author to address that within the confines of a complicated relationship is essential. To see it play out in the novel is incredible and creates great tension in the plot.
The complexity of the novel and the character dynamics adds dimension and depth to the novel. The realism and thought process that went into developing this story was incredible and served to make a grounded story. There’s a freshness to that will make readers love these characters because they can relate to them and addresses essential topics without dragging them down with over the top drama, making every scene as impactful and compelling as the last. (★★★★☆ | B+)