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.
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:
Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Have you read any good tearjerkers lately?