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Gayle Forman Makes a Beautiful Debut With If I Stay

March 27, 2010
If I Stay by Gail Forman
published by Dutton Juvenile, April 2, 2009

On a wet, snowy day, when schools are closed, Mia’s family takes advantage of a serendipitous day home together to go on an outing. We get a brief, but incredibly vivid snapshot of the family. Seventeen-year-old Mia, a gifted musician who divides her time between her cello and her boyfriend and is anticipating admission to Julliard. Her mom and dad, quirky punk-rockers who are gradually reinventing themselves as typical, suburban parents. Her adorable eight-year-old brother Teddy.

Then an unthinkable tragedy strikes, leaving their car eviscerated and her parents dead. Mia realizes she has been separated from her body. Her physical self lies in a coma, but she can see and hear everything that is happening. She watches herself being rushed to the hospital for intensive emergency treatment. She doesn’t know what happened to Teddy.

In the hospital, Mia is surrounded by other people she loves, her rocker boyfriend Adam, her best friend Kim, her grandparents, and other friends and relatives. As she delves into her memories of the past, the lives of all the characters are fully and richly developed. In the present, Mia realizes that she can choose to stay alive or die. How can she stay without her family? How can she leave her other loved ones behind?

If I Stay is a gorgeous book. I expected the overall tone to be sad, but while the author doesn’t hide from the tremendous loss that is at the core of this story, and there are moments of searing grief, it wasn’t a depressing novel. It is really a story about life, and about the myriad experiences — and connections with others — that make up our lives.

I was blown away by the richness of the characters in this short novel. The author didn’t waste any words. Every line was focused on animating the people in Mia’s life — her brilliant, devoted parents, her quirky grandma, her quiet but deeply loving, compassionate grandpa, her beloved brother, her best friend Kim, who’s quiet, bookish, and stronger than anyone suspects, and her boyfriend Adam, who has been torn between his passion for his music and his devotion to Mia.

The connection between Mia and Adam is wonderful — we get a few windows into their relationship, but what we see is multi-layered, rich and satisfying. We see the excitement and awkwardness of the beginning of a relationship between teens, as two people tentatively learn to fit their lives together. We saw their passion and tenderness and also the tensions that ran through their relationship.

The vibrant and utterly believable way the relationships in this story were drawn was really was made it shine. Gayle Forman has a gift for concise yet radiantly vivid writing and for illuminating the things — large and small — that really matter in life.

Read More Reviews: Write Meg!; Book Crazy; A Good Addiction; My Friend Amy

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 27, 2010 4:16 pm

    I won this book last summer but slowly forgot why I wanted to read it. You've just perked up my enthusiasm again!

  2. March 27, 2010 4:31 pm

    Great review! I've also read this book. I enjoyed it, but not as much as you did unfortunately. Anyway, have you heard that there's going to be a sequel? It's called Where She Went and it's going to be from Adam's point of view 😀

  3. March 27, 2010 6:35 pm

    Beautiful review! I agree 100% with everything you wrote. I'm really looking forward to the sequel which will be told from Adam's POV, three years after the accident. Should be interesting!

  4. March 27, 2010 7:08 pm

    I was listening to this on audio but haven't had a chance to get back to it. I should make time to listen to it or go buy myself the book. lol.

  5. March 27, 2010 7:21 pm

    This was one of my best reads of 2009. I loved the way narration moved from Mia's past to her present state in the hospital with each chapter. Loved every bit of this story and cried buckets 🙂 Can't wait till the sequel arrives !

  6. March 27, 2010 7:31 pm

    This sounds beautiful, and very touching too. Your kids rock indeed!

  7. March 27, 2010 9:35 pm

    What a great review! If I tried to review it I don't think that I could come up with the right words. I loved this one too. I'm looking forward to the sequel and crossing my fingers that it's just as gorgeous.

  8. March 28, 2010 12:37 am

    Loved your thoughts on this one…I loved this book too!!!

  9. March 28, 2010 11:38 pm

    Wow! Beautiful review!! I just came across this book last week. Looks like I have to add it to my TBR. 🙂

  10. March 28, 2010 11:39 pm

    Great review! I had not yet heard of this one, but it sounds very good. Interesting how the story can be told through the girl's memories and that there will be a sequel told from the boyfriend's point of view.

  11. March 29, 2010 8:22 am

    Sounds like a great book. It is always a treat to read about such rich characters! Loved your review, I really need this book!

  12. April 3, 2010 8:40 pm

    Well, you've just added another book to my to-read list. I hope you're happy. 😛 LOLThanks for the recommendation!–AnnaDiary of an Eccentric

  13. April 5, 2010 8:48 pm

    I'm thinking of reading this (soon). I want to read this so badly though! It sounds deep and meaningful…just the way I like it. 🙂

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