Feb 17, 2012

Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Book cover of If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Title: If I Stay [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: Gayle Forman [Website|Twitter|Facebook]
Standing:Book 1 of 2, followed by Where She Went.
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Speculative Fiction
Published: April 9th, 2009 by Dutton Juvenile
Format: E-book edition; 177 pages.  
Source: Borrowed from my local library.

Summary from GoodReads (because I don't have it in me to write one):
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 heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make -and the ultimate choice Mia    commands.
So for weeks I’ve been struggling with the notion of whether or not I was ever going to get a review written for If I Stay.  I couldn’t see a way to do it without making it somewhat personal, but then I read Rachel Hawkin’s amazeballs review of The Fault in Our Stars and felt totally inspired (yo...honest to God tears/laughing at the end).  I saw that sometimes when a book really hits home it’s okay to internalize it and let people know how it really affected you, because that’s what gives the book power.  

I wasn’t sure I was ever going to read If I Stay.  See, I knew it was about a girl who got in a horrible car accident with her family, and somehow got to determine whether she lived or not in the aftermath.  Do you ever avoid books that hit too close to home because you either don’t want those feelings dredged up again, or you don’t want someone who hasn’t been through that type of situation dictating how it feels?  I do.  On my twelfth birthday, my family got in a horrible car accident.  And just like in If I Stay, that’s what it was.  An accident.  We rolled our Suburban eight times down the middle of I90 in Montana at 85 miles per hour (yes, at the time, this was a legal speed).  My brother and I emerged miraculously unscathed.  Yeah, we were bruised, cut, and were picking glass out of our scalps for weeks, but nothing broken, nothing internally damaged.  Our mother was killed.  It sucked balls, it still sucks.  I’ve never been able to have a real ‘happy’ birthday since.  And to have to think ‘we were lucky’ because my brother and I were okay, and have people say ‘God has a plan for her, it was her time’ still makes me so unbelievably angry I could punch babies.  So I have a bit of a hard time reading books or watching movies about car accidents the way others have a hard time reading books about cancer.

I think that the number one thing I grabbed onto in this book for stability was the reality of the situation as an accident.  There was no drunk driver to blame it on, sometimes normal people under normal circumstances make a mistake that has very beyond normal consequences.  Thank you Gayle Forman for recognizing that.  Sometimes shit happens. It isn’t anybody’s fault, it just does.  

Also, I had Mia to hold on to.  I loved Mia, and I adored her family.  She was a quiet, introverted, musically inclined teen who actually liked hanging out with her family.  I grew up in a music loving family (both my parents are/were musicians, and my father owns the local music store) and I always loved hanging out with my family too.  Mia was mature beyond her years, but still was faced with one of the most impossible decisions imaginable.  The story cuts between what Mia is experiencing after the car accident and memories of her life before.  Her love for her family, her experiences playing cello, her best friend, and Adam, the love of her life.  If I Stay made me break down, and no book, not even Thirteen Reasons Why has made me do that in a very, very long time.  It was refreshing, like cleaning up the soul a bit.  It’s important to remember that sometimes what comes next doesn’t have to be answered.

My parents aren’t here.  They are not holding my hand, or cheering me on.  I know them well enough to know that if they could, they would.  Maybe not both of them.  Maybe Mom would stay with Teddy while Dad watched over me.  But neither of them is here.

And it’s while contemplating this that I think about what the nurse said.  She’s running the show.  And suddenly I understand what Gramps was really asking Gran.  He had listened to that nurse, too.  He got it before I did.

If I stay.  If I live.  It’s up to me.

All the business about medically induced comas is just doctor talk.  It’s not up to the doctors.  It’s not up to the absentee angels.  It’s not even up to God, who, if He exists, is nowhere around right now.  It’s up to me.

How am I supposed to decide this?  How can I possibly stay without Mom and Dad?  How can I leave without Teddy?  Or Adam?  This is too much.  I don’t even understand how it all works, why I’m here in the state that I’m in or how to get out of it if I wanted to.  If I were to say, I want to wake up, would I wake up right now?  I already tried snapping my heels to find Teddy and trying to beam myself to Hawaii, and that didn’t work.  This seems a whole lot more complicated.

But in spite of that, I believe it’s true.  I hear the nurse’s words again.  I am running the show.  Everyone is waiting on me.

I decide.  I know this now.

And this terrifies me more than anything else that has happened today.

Likelihood that I'll be back for more: I still can't decide! I have Where She Went, but I'm not sure if I'm ready yet to find out what happens next.

Recommended for: People in the mood for an emotionally powerful read, people with close families, and people who just want to be reminded that sometimes shit happens. This is a great one-sitting type read.

Real life repercussions of reading this book:  I’m sorry that this review was so personal, I usually try not to do that, but there was really no other way for me to talk about this book.  I could have gone on a lot more, but I did resist. On the bright side, I finally read it because I will get to see and meet Gayle Forman today at a library association meeting!


  1. I still can't read books with blatant child abuse/sexual molestation due to the repercussions from my childhood. I am glad that you were able to appreciate this book and heal a little from it. I was sad to read this review and just want to ::hug:: from afar!

  2. Oh, dear. It's hard to comment on this review, because no bones about it, what you went through f-ing sucks. And I'm not sure what to say about it that would be right. I am glad you were able to sob over If I Stay. That you found something to grab onto with the book. Really, that's all I can say.

    As for Where She Went, that whole book feels like healing and shows that life does go on, even when everything shatters.

  3. Thank you for sharing something so personal. This is a powerful review because of it, and I think that it makes me feel like the story is more legit that you reacted this way. There are times where I read books about issues, and I just get angry because it feels like they got it wrong and have no idea what it's really like.

  4. This is such a lovely review, thank you for sharing why If I Stay was such an intense read for you. I'm glad you could relate to the main character and the story. I really need to read this one, it's gotten so many good reviews from the blogs I follow.


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