Book Post: With and Without You

Don’t just read With and Without You…Experience it!

I read With and Without You by Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka, because its title sparked my interest, probably since I’ve been listening to a lot of U2 lately in the background of my day to day life. If the lyrics subconsciously made the title catch my attention, I’m glad I was going through this particular music phase. (And, yes, I know the lyrics are slightly different from the title of the book, but they were close enough to catch my attention.)

Okay, here we go: All Siena wants to do is figure out who she really is, but that’s a challenge when she feels like her entire identity comes from being one half of SienaandPatrick, the long term high school couple. However, before she can follow through with her plan to end things with him and find herself, he drops a bomb: he’s moving to a different state. Suddenly the idea of a breakup seems cruel, and way too final, when he’s going to be so far away. When she makes the decision to embark on a long distance relationship, will she be able to discover the real her and be the girl that Patrick fell for at the same time?

During Siena’s personal journey towards self discovery she finds herself drawn to activities that Patrick and her never considered doing. One in particular that sticks is improv. 

Back when I was maybe eleven or twelve I spent a couple of years taking acting classes. I did a few short plays, and I was in a community theater production of You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown. Sometimes to warm up during class we did improv. To me, coming up with things on the fly was incredibly challenging. It reminds me of The Office when Michael Scott takes improv classes and always falls back on “pulling out a gun”, because he never knows what to have his character do. I wasn’t that bad, but I get the feeling. 

To get an even better idea of what Siena may have experienced as she embraced improv I spent an evening at The Improv Shop in St. Louis. They have a variety of different types of shows to choose from, such as: A Cagematch (two improv teams compete and the audience determines the winner, who then returns the following Friday to defend its title), House Team Night (three teams take the stage and show off their skills), Student Showcases (students show off their skills every Thursday—bonus, it’s free!).

I chose to watch The One Four Fives improvise a musical. That’s right, not only did this group come up with a plot and characters on the spot, but they sang original songs as well. They broke their show into two halves, so I actually got to watch two musicals. The first one they titled “Big Money” once a member of the audience gave the suggestion of a casino as the setting. The second one began with an on stage interview of an audience member recounting the events of their day since waking up that morning. The team gathered details to then create a musical entitled, “A Day In The Life of Daniel”. 

Throughout the musicals, there were references to gambling addictions, time traveling, horrific car accidents, inanimate objects talking, chain-smoking, lawsuits…I could go on. It’s one of those events that feels hard to describe afterwards because it’s so specific to the group of people that were in the room. My family asked me about it the next day, and I found myself saying, “You just had to be there,” quite a bit. Which is cool, because no one will ever see those musicals again. And the next time The One Four Fives do a show, it will be completely different. 

It gave me a good idea about how freeing Siena could find improv. For so long she’d felt like half of a whole. When she steps on the stage to do an improv show, she’s there in the moment making decisions and creating without her “other half”, Patrick. She can be whoever she wants to be. The biggest question: Who does she want to be off stage? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

There you have it. Do yourself a favor and read With and Without You. As you read Siena’s story, consider finding an improv group in your area to go watch. If you’re near St. Louis, check out The Improv Shop. See if Siena’s hobby appeals to you. Many places have not only shows to watch but classes, also. Or maybe see if there’s another hobby you’d like to try for yourself.

If you haven’t already read With and Without You, what are you waiting for? If you already have, why not pick it up again? Either way, take my advice when you do—don’t just read it, experience it!

Want information about purchasing this book from Neighborhood Reads, a local Washington, MO book store? Click the book cover above!

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