Sunday, September 23, 2012

Review of "If I Stay" by Gayle Forman

Description from Goodreads:

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 heart-achingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make, and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

I read this short little YA book yesterday and was so, so touched that I had to write a review of it. I had wanted to read this book for a while; it was on my to-read list forever, but for some reason I didn't download it until recently. (It was released in 2009) 

The premise of this book is a little strange for a book that is not other-worldly - Mia watches the aftermath of a devastating accident from outside her body. She follows herself as she is transported in the ambulance, the helicopter, as she undergoes surgery, as her family comes to her bedside in the ICU. But she's not completely tied to her body, she wanders around the hospital and can sit with her family in the waiting room or the hospital cafeteria and hear what they have to say.

One of the nurses watching over her tells her family, "Don't you doubt for a second that she can hear you. She's aware of everything that's going on. You might think that the doctors or nurses or all this is running the show. Nuh-uh. She's running the show. Maybe she's just biding her time. So you talk to her. You tell her to take all the time she needs, but to come on back. You're waiting for her." It's like the nurse knows that Mia is watching all of this and she's the one who has to decide if she wants to stay.

Moments in the hospital are interspersed with flashbacks to moments of Mia with her loved ones - her parents and grandparents, her cutie little brother Teddy, her best friend Kim, and her boyfriend Adam. These memories are how we really get to know Mia. It helps the reader understand why she might chose to stay or go. It's really heart wrenching.

I honestly cried throughout this whole book. I couldn't stop. It was really moving. One of the parts that made me cry a lot was when her usually taciturn grandfather is by her bedside in the hospital and he says to her, "It's okay. If you want to go. Everyone wants you to stay. I want you to stay more than I've ever wanted anything in my  life. But that's what I want and I could see why it might not be what you want. So I just wanted to tell you that I understand if you go. It's okay if you have to leave us. It's okay if you want to stop fighting."

That's the really tough part about this kind of situation. You know you don't want the person to go, you want them here with you. You can't imagine your life without them. But you know their life will probably be easier if they go. To realize it, to admit it, to be willing to say goodbye is the hardest part for the ones left behind.

Another reason that I really appreciated this book is kind of weird. Though it's a little morbid, I've always  wondered what it would be like at my own funeral. How would my family and friends take it? What kind of funeral would I be given? Though this is not Mia's funeral, she watches how her family and friends react to her accident, her potential death. It's a similar premise. Very interesting.

I won't tell you how the book ends, what Mia decides, that's just too much of a spoiler. The end of the book is a little sudden, but generally well done. I would've been okay with it ending there, but there is a follow-up book, Where She Went. 

This one picks up about four years after the accident and is narrated by Mia's old boyfriend, Adam. It deals with the aftermath of Mia's accident and how he's dealt with it, how it's affected him. He's one screwed up guy. His head is a mess and it's difficult to read about him like that, when he seemed like such a strong guy in the first book. I think it's definitely worth it to read the second book. To know what's happened. This book also goes back and forth between present day and past memories, though they're all told from Adam's perspective this time. I think the author did a relatively good job of speaking in another narrator's voice. 

Though these books are Young Adult, they didn't completely feel like that. Some YA is cleaned up, not real-life enough, a little sanitary. These really aren't. Some of the characters have true-to-their-age conversations and thoughts, but the overall subject matter is much more than that - bigger, for all ages. The characters use curse words when appropriate to the situation. They say "fuck" or "shit" when a real person might use "fuck" or "shit". It makes it realistic. They are relatively short, easy reads. I read both of them in one day. But so, so good. I'll read them again after I've recovered from all the crying I did. :)

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