book, Book Review

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

About the Book:Book - If I Stay
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Source: Purchase
Publication Date: 2012
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Series: If I Stay, book 1
Genre: Fiction; Contemporary YA/Teen
Rating: 4 out of 5

Review: As I’ve expressed before, reviewing secular fiction is a tough business. It’s more complicated than the Christian fiction that dominated my reading for years so I’m just going to follow suit with my methods of reviewing that and say this: If I Stay was probably the (best) most surprising read of the year for me. The reasons why are recounted below though first, for anyone who may be unfamiliar with the material, here’s a little about what the book is about. It tells the first-person narrative about Mia. A high-school junior whose life is a happy one with her kind-of hippie parents (her dad is a teacher and mom is a travel agent) and her younger brother, Teddy. She is never really sure who she is or what’s to be and in a family of rockers (her dad once had his own band and travelled on tour, a life Mia grew up in), Mia is a talented classical musician who plays the cello. A talent her family has never seen the likes of. Into this life walks a student transfer named Adam who Mia explains just “was” when they met – he was confident in who he was already. Like her father, he’s a singer in a band and as his fame and recognition rises, he and Mia spend nearly every waking hour together. Though on this snow day when everything is not as perfect as their two years were, Mia’s life is forever about to change when it’s struck by tragedy.

Expressing what I thought about this novel isn’t going to be easy as I’ve probably already hinted at. For starters, the thing that popped most while reading was what a beautifully easy read this was. To begin with, the book is on the shorter side (props from me as a reader) and then the prose flowed elegantly and without (for once) being more distracting than concise as it shifts between Mia’s present and her past. The latter is when we get to know who she is with Adam, how he encourages her and makes her feel, the ways he keeps her true to the music she’s passionate about and brings her into her own; the former is the more “agonizing” read as Mia wavers between leaving behind the family she has left and staying to fight. The opening is really quite good, pulling us into the story without revealing too much of the main characters past yet we understand right away (as the accident happens as Mia sees her present play out almost as if in another’s body) that the present Mia is going to wavering as her body lingers in a coma and she faces the choice of staying.

Surprisingly I don’t think I cried in the book though I found it a compelling story that kept me flipping pages and I liked all of the characters, a rarity in most books. Mia is an easily liked heroine who has to hold up the story and make it as believable as can be for the emotions to seem genuine. Adam too is a wonderful guy that pushes against stereotypes and I respected that he loved Mia so very much. Then there is that ending! Like, oh my heavens! What was that all about? It has a ring of letting the reader decide what they want and fortunately for book addicts, a sequel was written (I don’t expect we’re likely to see a film follow-up), a novel that I do plan to read this winter. To be honest though, it’s a book I don’t expect to like as well as If I Stay. There is something to be said about this book that I cannot quite put my finger on. It’s both frustrating (asking us to go through all we did with Mia then giving back no solid place to land) and heartbreaking by providing us with a girl who we sincerely care about and root for.

Synopsis:The critically acclaimed, bestselling novel from Gayle Forman, author of Where She Went, Just One Day, and Just One Year.

In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. Heartwrenchingly beautiful, this will change the way you look at life, love, and family. ‘ – Gooreads

Content: There are multiple uses of the f-word (probably 10 or more, several coming in the span on 2-3 pages), other milder profanities like sh*t, h*ll, etc. There’s some sensuality (making out, thoughts of removing clothes) and discussion of losing virginity; there are always medical issues referring to a girl being embarrassed to be naked as medical personal work on her.

Coming Next from Gayle Forman: When her best friend Meg drinks a bottle of industrial-strength cleaner alone in a motel room, Cody is understandably shocked and devastated. She and Meg shared everything—so how was there no warning? But when Cody travels to Meg’s college town to pack up the belongings left behind, she discovers that there’s a lot that Meg never told her. About her old roommates, the sort of people Cody never would have met in her dead-end small town in Washington. About Ben McAllister, the boy with a guitar and a sneer, who broke Meg’s heart. And about an encrypted computer file that Cody can’t open—until she does, and suddenly everything Cody thought she knew about her best friend’s death gets thrown into question.   I Was Here is Gayle Forman at her finest, a taut, emotional, and ultimately redemptive story about redefining the meaning of family and finding a way to move forward even in the face of unspeakable loss. – Goodreads

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4 thoughts on “If I Stay by Gayle Forman”

  1. I loved Where She Went but it’s funny most people I meet they tend to either prefer the first one or the second, and it’s about half and half. In If I Stay I loved the concept. I liked Mia had to decide whether or not she wanted to live and the fight to do so. Where She Want I would say explores more of what what it means to support someone who has been hurt and the toll it can take on that person. Because of that I think I was able to relate to Adam so well because I have been the support in someone’s life before. And most people that like the second book more, it seems have also had times when they choose to be the support someone else’s in life. Funny how much our own life experiences determine how much we like a book.

    Anyway sorry for the rambles and I can’t wait to hear what you think about the second one.

    1. That makes sense, Kaylee. I can get you preferring “Where She Went,” especially if you are able to relate to Adam’s plight. I’m curious to read the follow up though don’t hold out hope a movie will be made since the first didn’t do well at the box office.

      No apologies necessary. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts – and thanks! I hope to read book 2 soon and enjoy it. 🙂

  2. The movie was one of those I spent the whole time pointing out how it wasn’t like the book. Plus they messed up a couple of key points that help set up the squeal. Good thing there was only a couple other people in the theater.

  3. Ironically I thought the film adaptation was quite good. But then, I read the book right before seeing the film and since it was my first – and only, read through perhaps I missed some of the elements that make the book unique. Meaning maybe because I read it with the anticipation of “speed reading” so I could watch the film, I didn’t “get” all of the important nuances.

    Also I think I’m more of a visual person when it comes to storytelling so maybe that’s why I usually like the movies. 🙂

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