When I think of YA fiction, more often than not, I think of nasty, poorly-written teen smut. When I picked up “If I Stay,” I wasn’t very optimistic. Within the first dozen pages, however, I was hooked.
Written by Gayle Forman, “If I Stay” recounts the story of Mia Hall, a young Julliard-bound cellist from Oregon. Instead of experiencing the events with the narrator like most novels, Mia recounts her life, her thoughts and her emotions while she is in a comatose state. Through this, Mia has to decide whether she wants to slip into oblivion or if she wants to continue living.
Forman tells Mia’s story of pain and heartache in such a vividly artful way that the book demands to be read. For example, Forman’s description paints a beautiful scene, like in this excerpt taken from just after Mia and her family’s car crash.
“You wouldn’t expect the radio to work afterwards. But it does.
“The car is eviscerated. The impact of a four-ton pickup truck going 60 miles an hour plowing straight into the passenger side had the force of an atom bomb. It tore off the doors, sent the front-side passenger seat through the driver’s side window. It flipped the chassis, bouncing it across the road and ripped the engine apart as if it were no stronger than a spiderweb. It tossed wheels and hubcaps deep into the forest. It ignited bits of the gas tank, so that now tiny flames lap at the wet road.
“And there was so much noise. A symphony of grinding, a chorus of popping, an aria of exploding and finally, the sad clapping of hard metal cutting into soft trees. Then it went quiet, except for this: Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No.3, still playing. The car radio somehow still is attached to a battery and so Beethoven is broadcasting into the once-again tranquil February morning . . .”
Chilling, isn’t it? As I read this, I could feel every ounce of the car crash, the crushing, the tearing, the smashing. It all seemed real.
Along with great writing, Mia and the rest of her family have a gloriously dry sense of humor which kept me glued to “If I Stay.” At one point, Mia remarks how she feels like she’s a weird teenager because she’d much rather stay in with her parents and Teddy than go out with friends. Personally, I’d stay at home too! Mia and her family are better entertainment than most movies. Teddy, the crazy eight-year-old with ADHD, her ex-punkers-turned-domestic parents with their intelligent, satirical wit, along with Mia’s memories provide ample entertainment.
Another thing I loved about “If I Stay” is Mia and Adam’s relationship. Too often in YA novels, I feel like I’m reading about a perfect relationship between two perfect people. At most, they each have one, maybe two flaws, and their relationship was nearly perfect. I adore the fact that Mia and Adam are real, that they both have their realistically long list of faults and that their relationship has its ups and downs.
Specifically, one thing that makes Mia and Adam’s relationship so real to me is the way they can sometimes be a little jealous of one another’s success. Both are talented musicians; Mia is a classical cellist and Adam is the guitarist in the punk-rock band “Shooting Star.” Mia’s hesitancy about attending a “Shooting Star” concert and Adam’s reservations about Mia going to Julliard both point back to their jealousy for the other’s success.
The only bad thing I can say about “If I Stay” is that the book as a whole is a little melancholy. The reader should expect to laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. It is a book centered around death, so a general feeling of gloom is expected.
Remarking on Mia and Adam’s relationship, Kat, Mia’s mom, says “It’s very inconvenient to fall in love when you’re so young.” For me, it wasn’t inconvenient to fall in love with “If I Stay” this summer, but, like Kat said, the best things are never really convenient but they are worth it in the end. “Because love, it never dies, it never goes away, it never fades, so long as you hang on to it. Love can make you immortal.”
Here’s a link to the “If I Stay” audiobook. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SfLKqqJaeo