If I Stay tells the story of a seventeen year old girl. A senior in high school, Mia is an accomplished and dedicated cello player, the girlfriend of Adam who is the lead singer in an up-and-coming local band, sister to a charmingly sweet Teddy, and daughter to two free-spirited and loving parents. Then one day, tragedy strikes and Mia is faced with an unfairly impossible choice- to let go of the pain and her unknown future, or to stay and suffer the emotional and physical damages waiting for her.
There are many teen novels that address the issue of death, sometimes through the death of a loved one, struggling with terminal illness, homicide, or suicide. But few have touched upon the limbo of being in-between. Not quite dead, yet not quite alive either. If I Stay is the first book I have read that has, in my opinion, addressed this potential reality in a plausible manner.
The plot is mostly linear, taking us through Mia’s present feelings, thoughts, and reactions to her rapidly changing world. Throughout, however, Mia flashes back to the past, often in response to a relevant detail occurring in the present. This method works extremely well to explain the importance of characters for multiple reasons. As Mia exists in this in-between state, she encounters characters we knew little or nothing about before the accident. The flashbacks to the past help establish the relationship between these characters and Mia, as opposed to having them just be a name on a list of people in the waiting room. It’s also important though, because as Mia is struggling with her decision to stay or go, she is thinking about the people she has lost and the people who remain. Traveling with Mia through the vignettes of her past bring these characters significance and make the reader realize what a difficult decision Mia is facing. How could you decide?
This is very much a novel of reflection. It only took me 3 days to read, but I often had to take breaks to absorb Mia’s situation. If I was in her shoes, would I stay? Could I bear the pain of loss, physical damage, and an entirely new way of life? And even if I could, would I fight to stay? Or would I let the welcoming darkness take hold and pull me under? That being said, I think this would be an excellent book discussion book for many age groups, particularly high school students. (Note: While I think that the discussion could be applied to many age groups, please know that there are infrequent uses of language and sexual references, so keep that in mind!)
My complaints about If I Stay are directly related. Firstly, I would have loved to get to know the characters in more depth. So many of Mia’s family and friends had strong, likeable personalities, but I didn’t get to know them as well as I would have liked to. I wish we had more time to spend with them, which leads me to my second complaint, which was the length. I felt that the book ended too soon, leaving me wanting more. This could technically also be a compliment, but since I just finished reading, the disappointment is still real, and it hurts, people. The unexpectedly quick ending might also be blamed on the particular copy I was reading. Towards the end there were still 20-ish pages at the end of my copy, which led my happily reading self to believe I had about 20 more pages of story content left to satisfy my appetite. Little did I know that I had been fooled (as I have been many times) by a chunk of afterwords, acknowledgements, and discussion questions.
It’s interesting too, that both my complaints (wanting more time and wishing I had gotten to know the characters better) could be compared to deathbed regrets…..was that on purpose? Did Gayle Forman make the shortcomings of the book metaphorical strengths?
Overall, I loved If I Stay. Any book that is engaging and causes me to think and reflect is great! I’d give it a solid 4 stars.
Also if you didn’t know, If I Stay is being made into a movie! How in the world they plan on translating this book into a movie is beyond me, but maybe that’s why I’m not a Hollywood producer. That, and I don’t have a chair with my name on it. Anyways, feel free to check out the movie trailer below!
What do you think? Did you love If I Stay? Hate it? Or are you…somewhere in-between? (Please get that terrible joke. It made me laugh a lot and I want you to laugh too. Share this moment with me.)