If I Stay by Gayle Forman
The book’s cover advertised that it was great for fans of Twilight, and it looks like the kind of cover done after they make a movie based on the book. Despite these two blemishes, I decided to give it a read, since I like YA.
Anyone who picks this book pretty much knows it’s going to be a crying book. I mean, the main character is in a coma after a car wreck by chapter two, and the title refers to her deciding if she is going to live or if she is going to die. I went through about eight tissues just in the last third of the book. It’s a tragic story. Talented young woman gets injured in a car accident in which her parents die. She’s in spirit form, walking around near her body, hearing conversations people have around her and about her.
Because of her love of music, and her relationship with her parents and little brother, grandparents, and boyfriend, all of whom are fairly well fleshed out by the end of the book, Mia is relatable. I think that the people around her are a little more developed than she is. She likes classical music, and she loves the cello. That’s most of who she is. That makes her more developed than many teenager protagonists (and a few living teenagers, to be honest, it’s a formative time.) Her relationship with her boyfriend Adam seems quite realistic. I think her parents were more interesting characters than she was, but maybe it’s because I’m closer in age to them.
I’m not sure I’m 100% on board with the premise of the novel, that people stay or go on choice. I think there’s a lot of people who want to die but don’t, even when their bodies are failing, and many more people who want to live but can’t. I think they kind of glossed over that if/when Mia lives, she will have a huge road of recovery and may never be the same person. The book as written doesn’t give her many reasons to die (except grief), so I never once thought she would opt for that route. If she knew that the concussion and the damage might mean she’d never play cello again, she might be mentally retarded or lose other brain functioning, might be in chronic pain, might not walk or have full muscle control or any of the other things that can happen after such a traumatic injury, it would have been a different book. It would have been more about mortality and accepting the limitations of a mortal human body and less a tragic love story between two musical prodigies. She could have made a real choice. As it’s written, her choice seems inevitable from page one.
As a heartwrenching YA novel which will make you cry, it’s right up there. It had the chance to do much more than that, to have Mia really understand the true costs of choosing to stay so that it was really a choice instead of just the obvious outcome once the plot and character was done. If Forman had acknowledged what Mia was risking, that she might not still be a bright and talented able-bodied musician afterwards, it could have been a spectacular book. As it is, it settles in at “pretty good.”