Review: ‘If I Stay’ by Gayle Forman

Review: ‘If I Stay’ by Gayle FormanIf I Stay by Gayle Forman
Series: If I Stay #1
Genres: Contemporary, Young Adult
Published by Penguin on 04-02-09
Format: Hardcover
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Just listen, Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.

I open my eyes wide now.
I sit up as much as I can.
And I listen.

Stay, he says.

Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind?

Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it's the only one that matters.

If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

I’m definitely on the fence about this one. On the one hand, it was well-written and felt so real. But there were other elements of the book that I enjoyed less, for sure.

Though she feels that she is dealing with many tough choices in her life (go to the local university or try for Juilliard, across the country), Mia suddenly is left with only one choice when she and her family are involved in a horrific car accident. She finds that in her ‘medically-induced’ coma, that she is the one who decides what happens to her; Mia is the one “running the show.” Will she choose to leave now that she is an orphan, or will she choose to stay for all that she has left (her best friend, her boyfriend, all the others who love her, and her future career in music)?

It is a bit difficult to describe the plot of If I Stay. The present-day plot follows Mia as she goes from the accident to her stay in the hospital. All the while, Mia is having a sort of out-of-body experience as she goes around the hospital separate from her comatose self, able to see and hear everything while she moves freely about.

A secondary plot of the book was entirely made up of flashbacks throughout Mia’s life, chronicling some of her most important memories involving her cello playing (a huge part of her life) and her moments with her family, boyfriend, and best friend.

Some of my gripes involve these plots. The hospital was mostly predictable, while the flashbacks kept the pacing rather slow. While I did enjoy the flashbacks because they reveal who Mia is and how the people in her life make her who she is, it still means that half of the book is slower because the flashbacks aren’t the ‘present’. But I think Forman tries to remedy this by making the book rather short (under 200 pages) so that the plot must move along at a reasonable pace.

A main theme for sure was music, as almost everyone is Mia’s life is musical. Mia herself is a cello prodigy of sorts, while her parents were a part of the punk rock scene in their day, and her boyfriend, Adam, is in a local band that is just taking off. While it was interesting to read deeply on a type of culture that I am not a part of, the music theme was a little too much for my taste. Every metaphor in the book centered around music, which I tired of. Maybe it would appeal to music aficionados, though.

Postcards of Cannon Beach from my trip to Oregon.

Postcards of Cannon Beach from my trip to Oregon.

What I did enjoy was the Pacific Northwestern setting of If I Stay. Forman’s novel is set in Oregon, and includes little snippets of Northwest culture, from the omnipresent rain to the hipsters. Having visited the Portland area and Oregon coast last November for a college visit, I really loved hearing more about the area — I definitely want to go back some day. :))

And of course, as is typical with near-death experiences, they always put life into perspective — and Mia’s life was definitely put into perspective in If I Stay.  We so often make things harder than they need to be, or don’t try hard enough for the things we want most. Only when all our opportunities are taken away do we see how much we had and how much we could do.

And hey! It also has a movie coming out in August. The trailer is below for your viewing pleasure…it may have SPOILERS, with this book it’s kind of hard to tell what would be one even after having read it. It seems like the movie may be told in a slightly different order, and it looks to me to be already more appealing as a movie because the visual and sound elements add so much more to what the book was able to present.

A recommended read for music lovers, and would appeal to those who are looking for a ‘deep’ read.

Comments

  • I’m glad I’m not the only one who didn’t love this book; I was beginning to wonder if there was something wrong with me!

    I think this book is a little bit over-hyped for what it is. I was kind of bored… but I managed to get through it because it was so short. This is one of those books that drives me mad because I keep thinking about how awesome it could have been had the author made some different choices.
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    • I know, right?! Everyone gushes about it, but it just didn’t produce the same feelings in me. It’s definitely over-hyped. And while the flashbacks were interesting and gave a lot of info, they disconnected me a lot from the present storyline. I agree, if it hadn’t have been so short, I don’t know if I would’ve finished!

      I don’t really have any interest at ALL in reading the sequel, but I do want to check out the movie, because I liked the trailers. The soundtrack seems to add a lot of emotion and fill in a little bit on her cello playing, and the visual aspects of the film look gorgeous. It very well may be better than the book.

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