The Cover: This is a reprint of the original, which had a drawing of a tree branch with a flower on it. This one’s much prettier. It’s simple, yet bold. The blue background complements Mia’s eyes perfectly. The dewey look of the model and the way she’s gazing up really makes the scene come to life in my mind.
Back Blurb: On a day that started like any other…
Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left–-the most important decision she’ll ever make.
Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.
The Book: Gayle Forman’s wildly popular novel, If I Stay, was recently made into a movie and has received a lot of positive reviews, so I figured it was time to take a break from the wondrous fantasies of Dystopian YA and check out this series. It turns out that the critics are right; this book is a definite must-read for YA lovers and non-YA readers alike.
Since almost everyone’s seen the movie trailer by now (view here if you haven’t), you’ve probably got the gist of the story: a girl’s entire family dies in a car crash, she survives but is in a coma, and is given the power to decide whether to live or die. It’s not a religious power, it’s simply her will and determination that allow her to decide.
The premise of the book is similar, beginning with a happy scene where Mia is spending an unexpected day off from school with her family, blissfully unaware of the tragedy that lies just ahead. Suddenly Mia wakes up and is near the scene of a gruesome accident. She becomes shocked and disoriented when she realizes that the dead, mutilated bodies lying on the ground are her parents, her kid brother is missing, and her own body is mangled, bloody, and unresponsive. As she races after the EMTs to join her body en route to the hospital, she desperately tries to make sense of the horrific scene. She watches as the emergency room staff work tirelessly to keep her alive, and once she becomes stable, her anguished extended family waits anxiously.
Mia’s story, taking place over the course of about 24 hours, is told in flashbacks where Mia describes her warm and happy family life and her difficulty with fitting in at school. She comes from an unconventional family; her parents were liberal metal/rock/hippie/indie children of the eighties who married young and unexpectedly started a family, but never stopped rocking. Her dad was a drummer in a well-known band that would tour all over the Northwest. Mia grew up with her parents’ rocker friends and was raised with a creative, musical mentality. Her parents were very supportive of Mia growing up as an individual and never tried to persuade her into following the status quo. Even though her parents were encouraging and empathetic towards her non-punk rock interests (mainly her obsession and talent with the cello), Mia always felt slightly out of place, like she never quite belonged with them, or with anybody, for that matter. She loved being with her family, but found solace in her best friend Kim, her boyfriend Adam, and of course her first love, the cello.
During her flashbacks, Mia analyzes her life in tidbits, focusing on her relationships with Kim, Adam, and her family. At first she remembers mostly happy memories, then slowly she starts to see the bad things that before she had tried to ignore. She seeks meaning and confirmation that she did belong, that she wasn’t the oddball in her family or school. Her strong friendship with Kim is reinforced and she sadly begins to find fault with Adam. Not just his faults, but the faults their relationship had, as well. Like most first loves, Mia had thought that Adam is God’s gift to the earth and that she was lucky to have him. She was overwhelmed with the joy that their relationship brought, even through the times they disagreed or when Adam admitted that he did’t really like Kim. Throughout her endless contemplation of memories, Mia sadly, but inevitably begins to see the relationship for what it really is. She starts to move out of the honeymoon stage that high school relationships never seem to leave; Adam is not quite the divinity she imagines him to be. He is imperfect and their future is uncertain, so why should she choose to stay if she might end up with nobody? Mia knows that the time to make her decision is fast approaching, but she must wait for Adam before she does. But when Adam’s desperate, romantic promises deliver her from her anguish, the ending is as much gut-wrenching as it is full of love and hope.
This story is sad. It makes me never want to have children for fear of having to bury one of them before I am buried, or myself buried while they are still young and fragile, with nobody to love and care for them the way I would. Even while writing this review, I am teary-eyed at the thought of one of my beloved nieces or nephews ever having being put into a position like Mia’s. It also isn’t even the life and death parts of the book that shook me up, it’s the parts about love and relationships and letting go. Mia’s mother once tells her, when Mia is wavering between following her dream to Juilliard or staying in Oregon to be with Adam, that she’d “understand if you chose love, Adam love, over music love. Either way you win. And either way you lose. What can I tell you? Love’s a bitch.”
True to its reputation, this book did turn out to be a major tear-jerker. Do not read this book if you have anything serious to do later in the day, like go to work or take care of small children. You will be rendered useless and will spend the rest of your day contemplating life, its meaning, and your place in it. You will also delve into deep personal issues that you have never resolved, consider making vast life changes, and vow to complete every item on your bucket list. You might even drown your sorrows in a bottle of wine or a pint of ice cream. Consider this your warning.
On a brighter, non-death-and-tragedy-related note, I bought the Speak paperback edition and it has a lot of great extras. Gayle includes her “Story Behind the Story,” which tells what inspired her to write If I Stay. There are also discussion questions, a section called “Behind the Music” that describes why she chose to include certain songs, and an Author Q&A. Check it out!
SPOILER: The title of the book, If I Stay, is based on the recurring theme of Mia’s choice to decide whether to stay or go. Obviously, Mia goes somewhere, because there is a second book. It’s titled, Where She Went. The first book was made into a movie, but there is no mention yet of a sequel. Review for Where She Went will be up soon!