“If I Stay” by Gayle Forman

26 Mar


A big thank you (again!) to the Penguin Young Readers Group for sending along the ARC of Gayle Forman's "If I Stay." There's been a lot of buzz on the Internet about this book, most of which I think is well deserved.

Here's the premise: Seventeen year-old Mia, her ex-punk mom and dad, and little brother Teddy are involved in a horrific car crash on a slick Oregon road. What started as a carefree day together ends in tragedy, as Mia's family is killed and she is gravely injured. While Mia's body lingers in the ICU in a coma, Mia's … well, I guess her spirit? her essence? … wanders about the hospital, watching her griefstricken grandparents, snarky best friend Kim, and adoring boyfriend Adam. We learn about Mia's life — her exquisite cello playing, her quirky extended family's strong bond, her deep relationship with punk singer Adam — through a series of flashbacks. It is the revelation of these small moments that allows us to slowly understand the happy, full life Mia had before the accident. In this way, we also grasp the pain of Mia's choice now, as she struggles to decide whether to stay and fight through unimaginable grief and physical torture or allow her battered body and broken heart to die.

Some elements of this setup, particularly the dead / dying girl narrating her life, seemed borrowed from other novels, like "The Lovely Bones," "Elsewhere," and even "All We Know of Heaven." What distinguishes "If I Stay" are the believable, fully developed characters and rich relationships, the beautiful sense of "family" as a broader concept than we might have imagined, and the way music plays such an important role in the story. Mia's love of the cello and classical music, her dad's past life as a drummer, Adam's rising punk band — all are absolutely integral to the story, making music almost an extra character in the novel. In fact, music so permeates the text that I couldn't help but think of the wonderful "Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist."

There is a lot of emotion and drama here, but I don't think "If I Stay" ever crosses the line into melodrama. Kudos to Gayle Forman for showing admirable restraint. Her writing is taut, she uses lovely phrases and descriptions, and the story moves along at a good clip. "If I Stay" raises intriguing questions about life, faith, hope, and the kind of love that allows for change and letting go. There is some strong language and one subtle sex scene, so I'd say this book is geared more toward a high school age audience, most likely teen girls. "If I Stay," which comes out next week, is an honest, touching story that's especially perfect for music lovers. I hope you enjoy it, too!

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Posted by on March 26, 2009 in Uncategorized


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