Laura Nowlin has joined the league of authors anointed a #BookTok success story with her 2013 debut YA novel, If He Had Been with Me. Ten years after its release, Nowlin will publish If Only I Had Told Her, a companion novel due out from Sourcebooks Fire in October.
Acquired by Leah Hultenschmidt during her tenure at Sourcebooks Fire, If He Had Been with Me follows Autumn, a high schooler with a tight-knit group of friends who can’t avoid the feelings brought up whenever she crosses paths with her former best friend Finn. When tragedy strikes their community, Autumn considers the repercussions of their fallout, and the endless possibilities of what life could have been for them both had their friendship never ended.
Back in 2013, If He Had Been with Me had a “very well received, but quiet” release, according to author Nowlin. Her debut received a starred review from Kirkus, as well as positive reviews from School Library Journal and Junior Library Guild, and earned her a small but committed following of readers.
“The thing is, though the book faded, it didn’t vanish,” Nowlin told PW. “If He Had Been with Me has always had a quiet cult following.”
Highlighting the book’s evergreen themes of young love, angst, regret, and missed opportunity, fans on TikTok have been anything but quiet. If He Had Been with Me has been met with praise and recommendations in the form of tearful videos on the social media platform.
Nowlin believes she was the first to notice the book’s rise to #BookTok fame. About a year ago, she began to receive messages from readers who had pointed to TikTok as their source for finding her book, though she wasn’t entirely sure what #BookTok could do for her then nine-year-old novel. “I had heard about #BookTok’s influence, but I figured it was too late for it to affect me unless I released something new,” Nowlin said.
Considering the hashtag #IfHeHadBeenWithMe currently has 70.8 million views, and the hashtag for the forthcoming companion novel #IfOnlyIHadToldHer currently sits at more than 1 million views, Nowlin’s book found readers at the perfect time. If He Had Been with Me currently sits at the #1 spot on the New York Times bestseller list in the young adult fiction category with more than 12,000 copies sold in April.
“It’s thrilling to see how #BookTok is bringing new readers to backlist titles,” said Nowlin’s current editor, Annette Pollert-Morgan. “Having readers share their experience of a book in compelling ways that spark others to read those novels? That’s amazing. Social media takes word-of-mouth excitement to new levels.”
As for why Nowlin’s book is resonating so much with readers, Nowlin believes Gen Z’s craving for emotionally impactful books is nothing new. “Teens have always craved emotional catharsis and have always wanted to share those experiences with their peers,” Nowlin said. “Current readers are in touch with their emotions and seem to know what they’re looking for. I’m honored that they are recommending my book for a good cry.”
“If He Had Been with Me is packed with intense emotion and characters who are authentically their teen selves,” Pollert-Morgan added. “It definitely holds a special place among novels that will make a reader cry.”
Other #BookTok favorites in the YA category, including Amber Smith’s The Way I Used to Be, Helena Fox’s How It Feels to Float, and Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, all support this assessment that young readers enjoy books that pack an emotional gut punch.
Set for release in October, If Only I Had Told Her, Nowlin’s companion novel, revisits the events of the first book, but from the perspectives of Finny, his best friend Jack, and Autumn.
Without giving too much away about the new book's plot, Nowlin said it’s “about disillusionment and survival” and explores the “fragility and impermanence of the body and of young people coming to understand their own mortality.”
When asked if readers could expect more devastation from this new entry, Nowlin said, “If I do my job right, yes, equally so.”