If I Stay by Gayle Forman, copyright 2009.
Publisher: Penguin Group
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: Book Blogger Recommendation
Ok…just FYI…this entire book review is pretty well ONE BIG SPOILER, so if you haven’t read the book yet, I recommend you stop reading here.
I picked up Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, based on this October review by Ashley at Books From Bleh to Basically Amazing. Since then I have seen a plethora of comments and reviews; everyone seemed to be raving about it. Intense, poignant and masterful are just some of the terms that I keep seeing used to describe the novel. I don’t know if I could really go quite so far as to call it any of those things; certainly, the plot is contemplative and original, but, beyond that, I think meh would serve as a more appropriate “adjective.” I guess I still have a bit of a bias against YA reads; somehow I expect more in terms of depth than they are often able to offer up.
Mia is a talented, cello playing, classical music loving, seventeen-year-old high-school senior adrift in a family of drum and guitar playing, punk rock loving, hipsters. Needless to say, Mia sometimes feels a bit lost in the mix. For the most part though, her relationship with her family is pretty awesome. Her parents are uber supportive, her brother thinks she walks on water and her boyfriend is on his way to being a rocking, talking superstar. Life is grand! Then, one snowy February day, in the blink of an eye, everything is taken from Mia; her life is irreversibly altered in a tragic accident. As she lays in a coma and listens to the buzz of the lights, the beeps of the machines and the goings on of her surviving family and friends, Mia is struck with the reality of her situation. She must decide if she has the strength to wake up and face an entirely new, painful world, or slip away from it to be with the ones she loves the most.
First off, I was really irritated early on in the story, right after the accident first takes place and Mia is initially pondering whether she should stay or go. I was irritated because, at the time, she was aware that her brother had survived the crash and it felt, to me, like there wasn’t much of a choice. Mia is presented as this sarcastic, sickeningly responsible goodie-two-shoes, who, quite obviously, if given the choice, would stick around for the sake of her brother. I’m one of those people who really needs to see a heavy dose of reality in a literary work in order to make it really shine. Death sucks, but it’s realistic, and for it to seem like there was any real choice for Mia to make, her little brother needed to die. The problem is, we don’t find out that Teddy is actually dead until so late in the story that it makes about 100 pages in the middle feel like filler.
By the time it was finally acknowledged that Teddy was dead and the story was winding down, I was starting to get a bit sick of the book and kept thinking to myself that unless Mia chooses to die, I am going to be very disappointed. Not because I’m a cold hearted jerk, but because I couldn’t image any way that the author could find to inspire Mia to live that would seem very satisfying. Luckily, I was wrong. The ending was, in fact, one of the only really inspirational moments in the whole story. I was somewhat impressed that Gayle Forman managed to pull a literary rabbit out of her hat. Her choosing to make Yo-Yo Ma a part of Mia’s inspiration for living, presented to me the first real glimpse of reality in an otherwise tedious plot.
I feel like I am being a bit hard on Forman and I don’t wish to make it seem like this isn’t a decent read. Certainly I enjoyed and respected the author’s fleshing out of several raw details, especially as concerned the accident itself.
“I see Dad first. Even from several feet away, I can make out the protrusion of the pipe in his jacket pocket. “Dad,” I call, but as I walk toward him, the pavement grows slick and there are gray chunks of what looks like cauliflower. I know what I’m seeing right away but it somehow does not immediately connect back to my father.” If I Stay, page 16.
I have respect for authors who aren’t afraid to add those raw details that give a story its sense of authenticity. Unfortunately, the inclusion of those details didn’t carry on beyond the first thirty pages of the story. Furthermore, I think Forman failed to exploit the potential of that rawness to create any sort of emotional draw. As I read about the insides of the father being strewn across the pavement, I was drawn to the story by the unexpected presence of those details, but I didn’t feel any sort of shock or heartfelt emotion as a result of it.