Sunday, January 9, 2011
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
It didn't snow that much the day of the accident, not even an inch, but it was enough to cancel school for Mia and her brother Teddy and keep their parents home from work. It wasn't enough to keep the family from taking a drive to see friends. Mia doesn't think it had anything to do with the snow at all, but tragedy strikes nonetheless. In a moment, Mia has gone from a happy winter outing with the family she loves to silently and invisibly accompanying her critically injured body from the scene of a deadly car crash that leaves her fighting for her life, or rather deciding whether to fight for her life.
If I Stay follows Mia hour by hour as she realizes that in her disembodied state she has the freedom to roam the hospital halls observing the grief of her boyfriend, her best friend, and her family and reflecting on the life she lived before it was stolen away in an instant. At one point, it becomes all too clear to Mia that she has a choice to make, the most difficult choice with the most important of consequences. It's up to Mia to choose whether she wakes to a new life of pain and struggle or whether she surrenders to a death that looks all too welcoming.
In If I Stay Forman creates a family rife with quirks and personality, a family whose love for each other is palpable. She builds a unique family the reader can love virtually from page one and a main character, Mia, who is strong and talented and in love with the family she stands to lose. Forman weaves the past seamlessly into the present as Mia watches her family and her friends band together at her bedside, giving her reasons to stay or permitting her to go. The flashbacks reveal the beautiful life she has lived that will never be the same and remind her that not all the good has gone even despite the most tragic of events.
I liked If I Stay, but I didn't love it. Part of the reason might be that I heard so much about it before reading it that I went into it expecting more than it could deliver. I went in expecting a tearjerker, and that's definitely what I got. I found myself in tears several times over Mia's story. I read the book quickly, enjoyed the characters, and was impressed by the flashbacks that filled in Mia's history. Sometimes, though, Mia's quirkly, lovable family seemed almost too quirky and lovable, and the tearjerking parts maybe just a bit too much on the emotionally manipulative side, and the dialogue from some of the medical personnel occasionally steps over the line into the soap opera-esque. All these things are but minor quibbles, however, and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend If I Stay to anyone who wants to read a powerful story about love, grief, and what ultimately makes life worth living.
(Hey, look! This is a book I actually read from my own shelves. Wild, huh?)