Title: If I Stay
Author: Gayle Forman
Published April 2nd 2009 by Dutton Juvenile
In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck…
A sophisticated, layered, and heart-achingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make, and the ultimate choice Mia commands.
After returning home from BEA, the insistence of Katie, Lindsey, Steph, and Linda that I read If I Stay by Gayle Forman stuck in my mind. As I browsed the shelves at my local library, the slimness of the volume was the deciding factor for me. I knew that I could squeeze it into my schedule.
And in fact, I did squeeze it in, in a single night. Fitting, since the events of If I Stay take place over about 24 hours.
It’s easy, languid reading that was simple to fall into, but the emotions that it pulled from me weren’t easy by any stretch of the imagination. In a word, If I Stay was heart-wrenching.
We barely know Mia when tragedy strikes her and her family. Through Forman’s use of flashbacks interspersed with the present, we get to know both Mia and her family; we come to truly understand what she’s lost and grieve with her.
Besides the relationships with her parents and little brother, Mia also has a best friend, a boyfriend, pseudo-family, and other family members. And we get to know them through flashbacks as well.
We laugh at Kim and Mia’s friendship beginnings even as we admire Kim’s current bravery. We “watch” the arc of Adam and Mia’s relationship while he’s trying to get in to see her in the hospital. We swoon over tiny moments like hand-holding and first dates while we pray that current Mia holds on. I cooed over how, despite some differences, Adam and Mia were still perfect for each other and I got caught up in worrying over a schooling decision that Mia struggled with… before I was zapped back to the present moment and remembered that Mia has a much bigger, much more important decision to deal with now. The anecdotal flashbacks show both character and relationship development and they were executed really effectively.
Really, it’s astonishing how many different levels of love Gayle Forman effectively covers in If I Stay. Familial, friendship, and romantic. But Mia still has another love and that love is the cello. I don’t have words for how deeply this part touched me. The fact that Mia has such an intense passion is something that readers will undoubtedly relate to. Her passion for her instrument and music is so intense and was one of the aspects of the book that moved me to tears.
Finally, there was the idea of the choice that Mia had to make. I loved Forman’s exploration of the topic, how Mia deals with it and how she watched her love ones process the idea. I won’t tell you how it ends… only that while Forman could have taken a thousand cliched routes, she instead chose the perfect resolution.
Overall rating: 4/5. Incredibly touching and emotional, If I Stay is a great choice for a quick catharsis.