Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman
‘In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen year - old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck… ’
Everyone told me two things about this book. Firstly, that I would love it, and secondly, that it would make me cry.
Well, while neither turned out to be exactly right, If I Stay was an engaging and touching read nonetheless.
This is a lovely, haunting short story which asks the question — what would you do, if you had the choice between life and death? If you had to choose whether to let go or cling on? Would you fight to stay?
Mia is in the ICU after a terrible car accident, hovering between life and death. She is trapped, watching the paramedics and doctors working on her body, fighting to save her and later at the hospital, observing her family and friends reaction to the accident and gathering round her bedside.
I don’t want to give too much away — this book is probably best just experienced. The writing is strong and there are some especially graphic scenes immediately after the car crash and some touching moments later on that are quite upsetting. One scene in particular that springs to mind is a quiet moment between Mia’s unconscious body and her grandfather, telling her it’s alright if she wants to stop fighting.
Most of the story is actually taken up by Mia’s memories, her life up until this point as she contemplates her choice. I enjoyed reading about her moments with her family and falling in love with Adam, though the almost constant flashbacks did get a bit too much after a while — If I Stay’s narration works because it is such a short novel, but I still found myself wanted to know more about what was happening in the present, as well as in the past.
I liked Mia’s mum a lot (she strongly reminded me of my best friend’s mum), but it was Teddy who stole my heart in this story. We don’t really get to know Adam well enough to form much of an opinion on him (though this looks set to change in the sequel), and I found Mia strangely detached from the story. Ultimately, I think that’s where If I Stay lacked punch, Mia, presumably in shock, is almost unaffected by what is going on around her, even her memories lack emotion. I wanted to spend more time in the present and actually experience what she was thinking and feeling, rather than her just relating to me what everyone else was doing.
This is a fantastic premise for a story and the kind of novel I would normally love, but Forman doesn’t quite pull it off, for me anyway. I enjoyed If I Stay but it didn’t have the emotional tug I was looking for.
Recommended Reading Age: 14+