Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Title: If I Stay
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Publication Date: April 2, 2009
Source: borrowed from the good ol' public library

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

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.

My Review:

If I Stay has been recommended to me SO MANY times.  This is a YA fiction novel, and a fairly short read, but everyone who tells me about it says it is heart-wrenching, life-changing, unforgettable--a 5 star book all the way through.

How could I not break down and read it?  I devoured If I Stay in two days (fast, for me).  And I had to take the weekend to think about it before writing this review, because there's a lot to it in only 196 pages.

The other reviewers were right--this novel is heart-wrenching.  It brought tears to my eyes more than once.  To expound upon the plot summary (without giving spoilers), Mia is in a car crash, and when she wakes up, she's kind of floating outside her body.  Her physical self is in a coma, in very bad shape.  But "thinking" Mia is outside that body, taking in what happened, and the reactions of her family and friends.  She then realizes that she has to make the ultimate choice--given what has happened to her, should she stay, and continue to live this life?  Or should she go, peacefully die, and leave everything behind?  She has been given the power to make the final decision.

There's a lot of detail in the novel that makes Mia's choice an enormously difficult one (but I don't want to give those details away).  Suffice to say that it's not an easy decision.  As a reader, when you're hearing the story from Mia's perspective, it leaves you spellbound.  The car crash has taken so much away from her--dying would be the peaceful and uncomplicated option.  Staying, living, would be so much harder--but also has the potential to be happy and fulfilling.  Is it worth staying, and pushing through the harder option?  Especially if that potential for happiness is only a maybe, and so many important things in her life have disappeared?

Mia's ultimate decision aside, it forces you to consider what you would do in such a situation.  Would you be resilient enough to keep living, if that life was missing so many of the things that previously gave it meaning?  Half the tears I shed in while reading this novel were over the fact that my answer to that question is "I don't know."  Forman does an absolutely amazing job turning Mia's dilemma into the reader's dilemma, through the power of perspective.

I did have one caveat with this book though, and it's the reason I don't think I was completely bowled over by it the way many others have been.  It may seem beside-the-point, but I could not stop thinking: WHY does Mia get to make this choice?  How did she get this power, this added level of consciousness?  Why does she get to make the choice, but others don't?  This is not explained in the novel, and it drove me bonkers.  To make it worse, apparently most of the characters in the novel (the nurses, her family that comes to visit in the hospital) somehow know she is able to make the choice--they are always talking to her as if that was the case, which I found to be odd, and too convenient given the premise of the novel.

I know that might seem petty, given the more powerful overarching messages of the book.  And in all probability, Forman really just meant for it to be an unanswered question, another point to ponder.  But it was a real sticking point for me.  I wasn't able to just let go and say, "Oh, that must just be how it is."  Mia is in such a unique position, I wanted some sort of explanation for how she got there.

Final verdict?  If I Stay is a lot of what I heard it would be: emotional, thought-provoking, memorable.  I just wish so badly that Mia's position in the story was better-explained, because that lack of detail took away from the overall experience a bit.  Still worth the read though...and have your tissues handy.

Other reviews of If I Stay:
Alluring Reads
Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Bookish Sarah
Novel Thoughts

Have you read any good tearjerkers lately?


  1. Great review! I adored this novel! Are you planning to read it's sequel Where She Went? In my opinion, the sequel was better!

    And yes, I have read a Tearjerker lately! Regine's Book by Regine Stokke. Very sad but beautiful as well!

  2. I made the mistake of listening to this in the car. It was a little hard to drive home at the end of the book!

    As to the "power" that Mia has... I didn't think of it as some special or magical thing. I've unfortunately had some dear family die in the past few years, and every time I've heard something from those present at the end to the tune of, "He decided it was time."

    It's morbid but sort of comforting to think that a person's death is something chosen rather than foisted upon them, and I thought this book did a good job portraying an especially tough choice.

  3. @Crazy Bookworm, yes, I am planning to read the sequel. I kind of wish I didn't know there was a sequel before I read this one...it gives it away a little, right? And thanks for the rec!!

    @Alison, I like your point about "he decided it was time". Putting it in that context makes sense. I guess I just didn't see that as I was reading, and it left a niggling question in the back of my head the whole time.

  4. Oh, I'm surprised! I never once questioned why she had that choice. Sometimes there are just things that can't be answered, I guess!
    Anyway, glad you loved the beauty of it! It's definitely one of my favorites <3

  5. I was interested to hear your review as I wasn't as wowed by this one as everyone else was either. But it wasn't her choice that bothered me so much, as I kind of accepted that as an explanation of what happens when people linger in comas. I think my problem was with empathizing with Mia. Perhaps to be touched by this one, you really have to put yourself in her situation and I really resisted doing that because it was just too horrible. I also listened to this on audio and that may have made a difference in me being able to separate myself from the story, too.

  6. I can see what you mean about the empathy...I think that is why the emotions of this book hooked me, because I DID put myself in her situation, and it was so harrowing. If you give yourself that distance, I could see this being a very different read.

    I know I should probably just let Mia's choice be one of those unexplainable things...I think I didn't only because Mia herself starts to ask the question during the novel: why her, why not other victims, etc? Once the question was in my head I couldn't ignore it I suppose.

  7. Interesting to see your thoughts on If I Stay since most reviews I've read about If I Stay are entirely positive. I haven't read If I Stay but I can understand how not knowing why Mia could make her choice can be annoying.

    Gayle Forman's Just One Day, which comes out next year seems to be really good too! Looking forward to it!

  8. @Alice, yes I can't wait for Just One Day! The premise sounds so interesting.


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