If I Stay – Gayle Forman

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If I Stay coverMia is seventeen and full of promise.  Recently auditioned for Julliard as a cellist, two parents that love her, an adorable seven-year old brother, and a boyfriend and best friend who enrich her life.  When her family gets into a car wreck because of snow, Mia’s spirit is thrust from her body and she walks around separated from her broken body.  From the start, she knows that her parents are gone, but she doesn’t know about her brother Teddy.  Mia must decide whether she will fight to stay alive or whether she will go.

I had been recommended this book a couple of years ago, and it has been at the back of my mind for a long time.  Mia is in a coma, but her ability to walk around and see what is happening around her is a fascinating idea.  And it’s beautifully done.  The immediate aftereffects of such a tragedy could be rich fodder for a book, but it would provide certain limitations to character development.  After all, how do you care about a family if you barely know them?  However, Forman tackles this issue with remarkable talent.  The book is interspersed with memories of Mia’s life, things she remembers throughout the day as she watches her extended family grieve for her.  None of the memories feel out of place, and they easily meld to the story.

One thing that really touched me in If I Stay was the depiction of music’s absorption.  Mia is a classical cellist, her boyfriend Adam is in an up-and-coming punk band, and her father was also a rocker.  Though their tastes are different, she and Adam share their love of music  and fall in love through the medium.  Music weaves throughout the story to connect Mia to her life and to her loved ones.  I love how important it is to Mia, and how the car radio plays even after the crash, making the scene less horrible for her.  Music brings comfort to her throughout her life.  There are many authors who try to show the power music can have, but many fail.  Forman does a superb job.  You feel Mia’s feelings, without Forman having to tell you (My Memories of a Future Life also did a good job with the same concept.)

I listened to this book on audio, but I think I’d rather read it.  Don’t get me wrong, the narrator did a marvelous job being heartfelt and conveying Mia’s story, but she was the wrong age.  Kirsten Potter has a deep, mature voice, one that sounds like a woman in her 30s instead of a 17 year-old girl.  One thing I loved about Book of a Thousand Days or Ella Enchanted was that the narrators sounded the appropriate age.  Seventeen is not so young, but it’s young enough that a young woman’s voice would have a little less confidence, a little more vulnerability.  If I were reading the book, Mia’s voice would be spot on.  Mature for her age, but entirely believable as a girl.  But when you listen to a book, it is important that the narrator fits with the protagonist’s voice.  In this case, because the chosen narrator didn’t fit, it made Mia seem older.  If you listen to the audiobook, feel free to disagree with me.

If I Stay was a beautiful story, and one that left you unsure of what you wanted in the end.  Forman presents both choices – Mia’s staying or dying – with so many reasons to support the other.  By leaving, she would be with her family.  By staying, she would have to live without them and with the pain of their loss, but she would get to experience the rest of her life.  Certainly you want her to live; it would feel wrong to want her to leave.  And yet, your heart aches for her loss and you want only what will make her happy.  If I Stay will capture you heart and pull you in to Mia’s mind.  Forman makes you feel and hurt almost as if you were Mia yourself.

Rating: 9/10
Audiobook Rating: 7/10


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