Book Reviews 2014 · Contemporary Books · Magical Realism and Speculative Books · Young Adult Book Reviews

‘If I Stay’ by Gayle Forman

A cold February morning…

A snowy road…

And suddenly all of Mia’s choices are gone.

Except one.

As alone as she’ll ever be, Mia must make the most difficult choice of all.

4.5 Stars (Rounded to 5)

‘If I Stay’ by Gayle Forman is a book which I felt I had to read after seeing the film trailer, so I gave it a try.

It is a thought-provoking yet slightly depressing read, and I would not suggest it if you are looking for a light read or comedic story. It is only 213 pages long (paperback; Random House Publishers UK) and if you are a moderately quick reader, it is very easy to finish this book within a day.

I found it very easy to identify with the characters in this book. You do get enough description of the characters to establish a mental image of them and understand their personalities (including Mia; not all books written in the first person have enough description of the speaker). I find all of the main characters likable enough to be able to be moved by their emotions and reactions, which is vital in a book such as this, where the whole premise relies on the audience connecting with the characters’ suffering.

My main point about this book is the ending, so if you intend to read this and haven’t, now is a good time to look away.

~SPOILERY BIT~

I feel that it is obvious that Mia would choose to stay (even without knowing that there is a sequel), because of the emphasis on Adam throughout the book. This led me to believe that she would wake up for him, and therefore had me anticipating her reaction to him once she has come around. However, the book finishes with her squeezing his hand to show that she is conscious, with the last line being ‘”Mia?” he [Adam] asks’. I had mixed feelings over this cliffhanger. It is clever from the author’s perspective, as it is more likely to make people want to pick up the sequel, ‘Where She Went’, in the hope of finding out what actually happens to Mia and those close to her. Having researched the sequel, I do know that its story is not an immediate continuation of this one, so I am hoping (and presuming) that it involves flashbacks to illustrate what actually happened straight after Mia woke. As I want to know the answer to this, I will be buying the sequel soon. However, I am left a little disappointed that the book finished where it did. I know that it was a natural ending point, and creates a yearning for answers that increases the likelihood of picking up ‘Where She Went’, yet I feel that there are too many things that I wanted answered that were not. These answers may well be in ‘Where She Went’, but the sheer quantity of what I would class as ‘loose ends’ does no more to make me want to read the sequel, instead leaving me feeling unfulfilled from ‘If I Stay’.

One thing that is guaranteed an answer in the sequel is how the crash impacts her relationship with Adam, however I would like to see how the crash impacts her familial relationships, such as with her grandparents. Her grandparents are the only people besides Adam that we really see at her bedside, and her grandfather telling her that he would understand if she let go was the most emotional scene in the book for me. I wish that we could have seen their response to her waking up, and how they handle talking to her about her parents and Teddy, since she supposedly does not know about their deaths.

As a continuation of this point, I feel that it would have been nice for Mia (in her spiritual form) to witness a conversation between her grandparents about the fate of her family. They are advised by the social worker not to mention the crash at her bedside, which means that we see little to no reaction to her parents’ deaths, which I feel is not believable. Of course their thoughts are on Mia’s survival, but there is no mention of grieving for the others involved in the crash, which would surely be at the forefront of their minds as well. We learn of Teddy’s passing due to the fact that Willow comes to Mia when she is meant to be treating Teddy. I do not see this as clarification of Teddy’s condition. The first time we hear someone confirm his state is when Adam says ‘”…what happened to Teddy…”‘, four pages before the end. We hear more about the insignificant driver of the lorry than we do of Teddy. For instance, I can tell you that the lorry driver had mild concussion, but Teddy… I spent the entire book craving a bit of information about his injuries. None ever came. As he was a character I became very much attached to, I just feel like it would have been nice to have been made aware of his cause of death, if nothing else.

The main selling point of the book for me was its focus on both punk-rock and classical music. Books with a musical theme only really ever mention one type of music, often pop music. My own musical preferences are varied; I very much enjoy the style of music we see echoed through Adam’s band (and in fact play the guitar myself), yet I often play classical piano pieces and grew up playing the violin, which is not a huge step away from Mia and her cello. To be able to see both of these elements combined in such an easy fashion makes the musical side to the book a unique read, for it is the first book I have read which holds both styles on equal ground, and shows examples of a person who is a fan of both classical and rock music.

All in all, whilst I feel that what we have in ‘If I Stay’ is enjoyable, with likable characters and mixed music references, there is just so much absent in the plot of the book which I wish was included. These points may well be picked up on in the sequel, but I feel that there were so many loose ends that, instead of adding to the appeal of the sequel, detract from the book itself. Despite this, I would reread and recommend ‘If I Stay’ many times over, and look forward to watching the film. I just hope that ‘Where She Went’ does touch upon the vital information which was missing from ‘If I Stay’.

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