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Sunday, July 11, 2010

If I Stay: Contemplative YA Novel Asks the Big Questions

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

One snowy day, three members of a family perished in a car accident. A fourth lingered, but ultimately succumbed to the same fate. The news haunted Gayle Forman. As the author pondered the incident, still grieving for her friends, a character popped into her head. Her name was Mia. She, too, was involved in a crash. She, too, lingered. Forman's second YA novel, If I Stay, is the story of Mia, a teenager stuck in that murky space between living and dying. It explores the thoughts of a young girl, ideas about living, dying and the choice Mia eventually has to make for herself - should she stay or should she go?

Through flashbacks, we learn about Mia's quirky, bohemian parents; her funny little brother, Teddy; her loyal best friend, Kim; and her rocker boyfriend, Adam. In the one day that she floats between her world and the next, we see exactly why her choice is so difficult. Even though the accident has changed things, Mia has plenty of reasons to return. She also has good reasons to go. As Mia spends the day contemplating her decision, the reader also has the chance to ponder the big questions: What happens after we die? Do families endure beyond the grave? Can comatose patients really choose to fight or let go? How do those left behind cope with the death of a loved one?

While I don't have a problem with contemplative novels like If I Stay, this one dragged quite a bit for me. I'm not sure why, since it had plenty of conflict, but it never really grabbed me. Maybe it's because the story's not terribly fresh, or because the only characters who really stand out are Mia's parents (who are charmingly original), or because Mia's voice isn't strong enough to make her truly come alive (pardon the pun). The ending did surprise me, though, and the sentimentality might have even coaxed a tear or two out of me. Still and all, I found If I Stay disappointing - one of those books that comes nowhere near to living up to its hype. Always a bummer.

(Readalikes: A little like The Everafter by Amy Huntley)

Grade: B-

If this were a movie, it would be rated: R for strong language (several F-bombs, plus frequent milder invectives) and some sexual content

To the FTC, with love: I bought If I Stay from Amazon.


  1. I really liked this novel. While the premise may not have been original, I thought the way the story was told was lovely. :)

  2. I'm sorry you didn't like it. I absolutely loved it. But it's always disappointing to dislike books that so many others love - for me it was The Dark Divine and Prophecy of the Sisters.

  3. This is a book that has been on my TBR list for awhile now. Thanks for the review.

  4. sounds like a book with an interesting premise.

  5. I finished reading this last night. I found it an interesting read that brought tears to my eyes.

  6. After I read this book, I thought, "How did this book make it onto my list? I really don't think that Bloggin' 'bout Books would have suggested it." So I searched for it on my Google Reader and found that it was NPR that suggested it, not you. Thank you for being more insightful about books than NPR.


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