Wednesday, May 22, 2013

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...

A sophisticated, layered, and heart-achingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make, and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

It’s no secret that I’ve been eye-humping Gayle Forman’s Just One Day.  It’s also no secret that I spend way too much money on books to pay full price plus delivery for a new release as often as I want to.  So my compromise was to get the cheaper (used) If I Stay to whet my appetite for Gayle until I get around to reading her newer novel.

I knew from some reviews and the synopsis that this would be a unique reading experience.  Mia’s family suffers a tragic car accident, which kills her parents on contact and throws her brother and Mia herself into fatal comas.  Mia finds herself outside of her body, silently observing as she’s rushed to the hospital and her remaining family and friends gather in the ICU where she’s being treated.  The question quickly becomes whether or not she should give up and join her lost family, or pull through and find a way to live without them.  That’s pretty heavy stuff for a YA novel, and this one attempts to pull it off in under 200 pages.  Whether it works or not is a matter of opinion, as any perusal of its GoodReads page will tell you.  But since this is my review, the question is, Did it work for me?

Yes…and no.

It’s quickly obvious that Forman is a very talented writer.  She created some really likeable characters and gave us some really touching scenes.  My main problem with it, however, is that she did all this through flashbacks.  Most of this novel felt like info-dumping as we’re told Mia’s whole life story in memories.  I know, without a doubt, that I could have loved so many of the people in her life if I had really gotten to meet them, to experience them with Mia, not through Mia.  Her parents and her boyfriend especially, I would have loved if the story were told differently.

Despite that one major complaint, I did rather enjoy If I Stay.  As I already said, the writing is great.  The pages call to be turned, and the ending – while somewhat predictable – was satisfying and calls readers back for the sequel.  (Which I will definitely be reading.)  Forman does a passable job with creating an entire life for Mia in such few pages.  I just wish she hadn’t tried.  This is one book that I feel would have benefitted from being a hundred pages longer, by not starting mere pages before the big accident.  The emotional punches of Mia’s memories would have been so much more powerful if we had a bit more of a pre-formed attachment to the people in them.

I guess what this comes down to is whether or not I’d recommend If I Stay.  I would.  It’s such a short book, so even if you don’t fall in love with it you’re not losing much time to it.  It’s a few years old so if money is an issue, you can find it cheap used.  It’s fresh and original, and if you’re looking for a quick read that can at least hold your interest, this book delivers.

If I Stay - 3 out of 5 stars


  1. I appreciated the flashbacks because they were the times that I wasn't crying while reading after the accident. I liked them too because I feel like it might have taken away from the story for me if we got to know the characters first then the accident happened. I dunno. I see what you're saying, but I liked it a lot the way it was :) I could have been a bit longer though!

    1. I understand that. I think it's one of those things that depends on the reader. I know a lot (like, a lot) of people who loved how the characters were developed. And you are right in that they really helped push some of the depression back, the present time scenes were soooo dark.

  2. Ugh, I agree. The infodumping through flashbacks totally kept me from connecting to this story. Weird though, that it bothered me so much, and other people completely loved it and cried their eyes out. Oh well. Such is life.

  3. I read this before I started blogging, and had to have a box of tissues handy the whole time. I don't remember feeling disconnected from the characters because of the flashbacks, but I wonder if now, that might be different. Since it's such a short read, maybe it's time for a re-read...

  4. Interesting! I want to read this. The funny thing about flashbacks is if they are well done, I still feel like I'm in the moment, OK one persons POV of that moment but it doesn't feel like telling to me. I still feel like I'm being shown the action, do you get me?


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