Sunday, April 8, 2012

Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay
by Gayle Forman
Dutton Juvenile/ 2009
199 pages
Source: Library loan


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 heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make -and the ultimate choice Mia commands.(Taken from Goodreads.)

Opening Line:
    Everyone thinks that it was because of the snow. And in a way, I suppose that's true.

My Take On It
   If I Stay is one of those books that came to my attention after I started reading YA book blogs. Everyone raved about it and author Gayle Forman. So when I found it at my local library, I was excited to give it a whirl. I'm glad I did. I think If I Stay is a book everyone ought to experience.
   First off, I was so surprised at what a short book it is. My edition is just shy of 200 pages! What a nice change after reading some rather hefty reads (400+ pages) recently. But do not underestimate the strength of the book based on it's length. It is a great example that more does not always equal better. I knew going in the basic premise of the book. And I admit that I wondered how a subject like death and loss could be squeezed into 199 pages and still work. But it does, in every way. 
   As you can gather from the synopsis, Mia is in a terrible accident, an accident that claims the lives of her immediate family. And the scenes that describe the accident and it's aftermath are pretty horrifying. But it is the period in which Mia lies comatose, yet somehow is outside of her body watching the scene unfold around her, that makes up the meat of this story. That in itself would constitute a great story. But Forman takes it a step further by writing in Mia's memories of her life: her relationships with her parents; her little brother; and her grandparents. In addition, Mia also flashes back to her experiences with her boyfriend Adam and her best friend Kim, and it was those two connections that especially spoke to me as I was reading.
   Mia has a decision to make, and it's not as simple as it sounds. Should she stay, in a world without her parents and little brother, or should she go, and leave her remaining family, boyfriend and friends behind. Her memories of all she has gone through with all of the people in her life push and pull at her as she struggles to figure out what choice she must make. 
   One thing that amazes me about this book is that even though it has been widely read and reviewed, I never knew what her decision would be, prior to reading. Now, one could surmise the ending, what with there being a sequel to this book. But as I was reading, I let that slip from my mind and read it as if without that knowledge, and found that it was remarkably easy to do so. I was caught up in the book, always wondering as the pages went by what Mia would do. 
   Without a doubt my very favorite aspect of the book was Mia's relationship with her best friend Kim. The passages between Mia and Kim are so wonderful, I would read a book just about the two of them and their friendship any day. This next passage comes from one of Mia's flashback memories:
...I rode over to Kim's house to vent. She listened to my diatribe, her expression purposefully blasé.    
    "That's just ridiculous that he only likes people like him," she scolded when I finished spewing. "he likes you, and you're not like him."    
    "That's the problem," I mumble.    
    "Well then deal with that. Don't drag me into your drama," she said. "besides, I don't really click with him either."    
    "You don't?"  
    "No, Mia. Not everyone swoons for Adam."    
    "I didn't mean it like that. It's just that I want you guys to be friends."    
    "Yeah, well, I want to live in New York City and have normal parents. As the man said, 'You can't always get what you want.'"    
     "But you're the two most important people in my life."    
     Kim looked at my red and teary face and her expression softened into a gentle smile. "We know that, Mia. But we're from different parts of your life, just like music and me are from different parts of your life. And that's fine. You don't have to choose one or the other, at least not as far as I'm concerned."
    "But I want those parts of my life to come together." 
    Kim shook her head."it doesn't work that way. Look, I accept Adam because you love him. And I assume he accepts me because you love me. If it makes you feel any better, your love binds us. And that's enough. Me and him don't have to love each other." 
    "But I want you to," I wailed. 
    "Mia," Kim said, an edge of warning in her voice signaling the end of her patience. "You're starting to act like one of those girls. Do you need to get me a gun?"
Isn't Kim awesome? The scenes between she and Mia were so authentic it reminded me of some of my own best friends. Reading the comfortable dialogue between the two felt like a page from my own life story.
   I also love the portrayal of Mia's parents and grandparents in If I Stay. It's clear that Mia and her parents are close, and I think this book is testament to the fact that author's can indeed write about healthy relationships between teenagers and their parents in YA literature today.
   And it's possible to write about beautiful and loving, yet also complicated, romantic relationships as well. I loved that Adam was a hard core rocker and Mia was a classically trained musician, so different but alike. Without their shared love of music the differences between the two might have driven them apart. It's awesome that music instead unites them. Adam and Mia aren't the perfect couple, they have their ups and downs, but they clearly respect each other's thoughts and goals. They face everyday, real problems that young people face in real life, and I loved reading it. And yes, there are some sweet AND swoony moments included too. Adam is what I would call a definite keeper:)
   This book is emotional to be sure. And yes, I did cry, especially with the parts concerning her little brother (those hit me SO very hard) but somehow I was not a blubbering mess, as I was with other books I have read. I think that is because while there is death and loss in this book, there was also so much life and love. As Mia comes to realize: dying is easy, it's living life that can be hard. And through Adam and Kim, Mia is reminded that there can be a life for her even with all the loss she has suffered. 
Kim stops and smiles for a split second. Then she makes this funny noise, a cross between a cough and a throat-clearing. I've heard her make this sound before; it's what she does when she's summoning her courage, getting ready to jump off the rocks and into the bracing river water.
    "I do have a point to all this," she continues. There are like twenty people in that waiting room right now. Some of them are related to you. Some of them are not. But we're all your family."
    She stops now. Leans over me so that the wisps of her hair tickle my face. She kisses me on the forehead. "You still have a family," she whispers. 
 I absolutely shivered when I read that in the book. Kim always knows just what to say.
The end of the book moves fast, and the climax really builds up as the moment comes when Mia must choose. I think that the way Forman wrote this scene was spectacular. I re-read it a couple of times because it's pretty powerful. I can't include an excerpt, it wouldn't do it justice taken from the whole, you have to read it yourself. But it is beautiful and gut wrenching and breathtaking all at the same time. I will say that if I hadn't been in love with Adam by this point, I definitely was by the book's end. And you know what is the best part? The sequel, Where She Went, which released this time last year, is written from Adam's point of view! I can not wait to read it you guys!
   I loved If I Stay, it was deserving of the hype and packed one heck of a wallop for such a slim volume. Forman's writing is top notch and I can not wait to read Adam's take on things in the sequel Where She Went.

4.5/5 Stars
Check out Gayle Forman's website here.

Check out other reviews of If I Stay here:
Into the Hall of Books
Chachic's Book Nook


  1. I actually teared up a little reading your review just because it reminded me how much I loved this book. I'm so glad you loved it as well. I hope you love the second one just as much, I know I did.

    1. Such a powerful little book! Hopefully I can get my hands on the sequel soon because I need a little more Adam and Mia:)

  2. Hi there,
    I haven't read this book yet but, after reading your review it is definitely on my list.

    Book Enslaved

    1. Oh I would definitely recommend it, and it's a quick read as well!

  3. I loved this book. One of my favourites, and it so made me tear up too! (a couple times!) I'm glad you discovered it! :)

  4. I picked this book up on a whim at the library, had never heard of it before but really liked the cover -- and oh my goodness, I am in LOVE with it. It is really one of the most emotional and heartfelt books I've ever read. This is a great review, touching on so many of the points that make this such a great read.

    And I promise you, Where She Went is even BETTER. I didn't think that was possible with how much I loved If I Stay, but...oh. I can't wait to hear your thoughts after you read Where She Went :)

  5. I have a project for English class and I was wondering if you could tell me the exact part of the book where the climax occurs without spoiling the ending of the book. I would really appreciate it.


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