If I Stay by Gayle Forman is the first book I’ve received, read and promised to review as part of Transworld’s Summer Reading “Challenge” (quotation marks my own; four books in four months is hardly a challenge, unless we’re talking War and Peace-type tomes) and, as I’ve previously explained, this will be an interesting experience as I usually only read books I, well, want to read – books I’ve chosen myself.
Let’s see how it goes.
If I Stay is the story of Mia, a seventeen-year-old girl who finds herself fighting for her life after a horrific car accident. Unable to communicate with anyone around her, Mia watches from outside her body as doctors try to keep her alive, friends and relatives struggle to come to terms with what’s happened and her boyfriend does his best to break into the family-only ICU. Mia is a cellist, her parents are former punk rockers and her boyfriend is part of an emo band (if you don’t know what emo is, think the soundtrack to Twilight) and so the narrative is infused with music, so much so that it’s like a character unto itself.
Forman writes simply and her matter-of-fact narration serves to strengthen the story’s tragic blows. I wasn’t at all surprised when I read in the Acknowledgements that Forman had listened to ‘Falling Slowly’ by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (Oscar-winning song from the movie Once) “more than 200 times” while writing, as reading If I Stay feels exactly like listening to that song. The beauty of the book is that it’s never obvious which way Mia’s decision will go and there are many truly moving scenes that made the pages blur before my eyes.
That said, I couldn’t relate to Mia, mainly because her life (prior to the accident, of course) was pretty perfect. She was pursing her dream of playing the cello as a professional musician, and had got into Juillard seemingly without much effort. Her parents are so cool they let her boyfriend stay over, never once suggest she go and do something more secure (like study Finance) and along with her younger brother and equally supportive grandparents, it’s all Brady Bunch at the breakfast table. Her boyfriend Adam even gets to live out his dreams, too – right out of high school, his band gets a record deal – and despite his ice-cold coolness, he falls for the nerdy, plain girl who loves classical music and she, in turn, manages to fall right in with his friends.
This isn’t what being an average seventeen-year-old girl is like – it’s what we’d like it to be like. It’s Edward and Bella all over again, just without the vampirism. Whether or not we’d like to admit it, in reality Mia would be scrawling Adam’s name in love hearts all over her diary and he’d be blissfully unaware that she even exists.
Comparisons to The Lovely Bones wouldn’t stand up in court; to me, this is more reminiscent of Jodi Piccoult’s The Pact, another tragic love story involving too-perfect teens struggling with their perfection. All in all, I think If I Stay is a moving parable suitable for teenagers on the cusp of entering the Real World, but its narrator’s life is a little too perfect for this cynical grown up.