Thursday, May 07, 2009

Review: If I Stay

If I Stay
Gayle Forman
2009; Dutton; 978-0-525-42103-0 (hardcover)

Summary: The last thing Mia remembers is Beethoven's Cello Concerto no. 3. On a rare snow day in Oregon, Mia's family decides to take a drive and visit some friends and family. But then they get into an accident. When Mia wakes up, she can still hear the classical music on the car radio--even though the car is a crumpled mass of metal. And her parents are dead. Before she can find out if her brother has survived, Mia sees herself. She's actually outside of her body, and now she's faced with a choice. Should she follow her family to what comes after life . . . or should she stay?

Two Things to Know about If I Stay

#1: Perhaps there is something between life and death.

Detailing the twenty-four hours from the accident to Mia's decision, If I Stay seeks to explore what happens when we're caught between alive and not. In a coma, Mia finds herself wandering the hospital, seeing how her boyfriend and best friend try to get in to see her, how the accident is affecting her extended family, and how it's up to her to choose her fate. While a character in this kind of limbo is a common literary device, Forman uses it to fully explore all aspects of Mia's character. As Mia slowly contemplates how to go forward, we flash back to all the different events and memories that have made Mia into who she is. We see why there are many reasons for Mia to stay . . . and just as many reasons for her to go.

#2: Important choices aren't just about life and death.

Before the accident, Mia was trying to figure out her future. She had applied to Julliard, and she was pretty sure she would be accepted. But her parents, her friends, and her boyfriend were all in Oregon. The biggest challenge was leaving behind her boyfriend Adam. Adam's band was starting to gain some success, but it was a local success. They certainly weren't going to be able to pull up stakes and move to New York. And while Mia knew that if she got accepted, she would attend Julliard, that didn't make the thought of leaving Adam any easier. Facing such a choice doesn't really prepare Mia for the bigger choice she has to make. However, it does remind us that the decisions that matter most can have just as much weight as the one that Mia makes by the end of the novel.

A haunting novel, If I Stay beautifully explores a major turning point in the life of a talented, brave girl. Facing a horrible choice, Mia is able to take the strength of her family and her friends and use it to find the right decision for her. Fans of Gabrielle Zevin's Elsewhere and other novels of characters in the afterlife might also enjoy exploring the question of what comes before death, as posed in If I Stay.

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