Monday, August 30, 2010

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I StayIf I Stay

Gayle Forman

SUMMARY: When Mia came down to breakfast that morning, snow flakes were still fluttering down outside and the voice on the radio was announcing the cancellation of school.  With her beloved cello stuck at school, Mia can't practice.  Her parents decide to use the day off to visit friends; Mia and her brother Teddy willingly pile into the car with them and the four set off as the snow already begins to melt.  As they finally shift the radio back to the classical music station and Beethoven's Cello Sonata no. 3 begins to play, a truck comes out of nowhere and crashes into the car.  Suddenly Mia is standing beside her broken body in the snow as the sonata miraculously plays on from the destroyed vehicle's intact radio. Her parents are dead.  Before Mia can find Teddy, the paramedics arrive to take her severely injured body to the hospital.  Compelled by the utter strangeness of her situation, Mia follows. Over the next few days, Mia must make the ultimate choice: will she let herself go or will she stay?

ONESMARTCUPCAKE THINKS:  I first began reading this book several months ago, when I picked it up in a store and then couldn't put it down for several minutes. I forced myself to place it back on the shelf, however, because at that point I was deep into senior paper land and had to spend my spare reading time on literary criticism about Victorian novels.  But I picked it up again at the library this summer and sped through it in about a day.  If I Stay is lovely and evocative work which delves into the delicate and difficult questions of mortality: what control do we have over our death and what is worth staying alive for?  

The novel shifts between Mia's current state after the accident and the significant and insignificant moments of her past that have shaped her relationships with her family, friends, and boyfriend.  Mia's voice is distinctive and recognizably realistic.  Her quiet but powerful passion for music, her occasional sense of separation from her former rock 'n roll parents and punk rocker boyfriend Adam, and her concerns about life after high school-all these basic facets build together through the shifting narrative to illustrate Mia in her complexity and humanity.  The details of Mia's reactions and experiences in both time frames allow the reader to become intimately connected to Mia and the circle of people surrounding her.  Even only a few pages into the novel, I felt as though I knew the characters, especially Mia, and so I felt every pain and twist in her brief but intense journey along with her. 

The relationships between Mia and her parents, her best friend, her grandparents, her brother, and her boyfriend are well-drawn and realistic in their complexity.  Mia and Adam's relationship in particular was enjoyable to follow; it grew organically and went beyond the flush of first love to the complications of mature affection. Forman's lyrical language beautifully evokes the genuine passion between the two without shifting into melodrama or overwrought teen romance.  

If I Stay is a short novel but its brevity contributes to its emotional impact. Forman's spare but poetic prose expresses a wide range of emotions and experiences with honesty and frankness.  Through her elegant writing, the reader is immediately drawn into the frightened and confused mind of a seventeen-year-old girl on the verge of losing everything.  The lyricism of the text seems to echo the large role music plays throughout the narrative, emphasizing that while the decision Mia faces is universal, the story remains that of an individual-a vital young woman for whom music represents all the pain and joy of life.  

Gayle Forman has written a small book that packs a big punch.  Her characters could step off the page and her beautiful writing is a pleasure to read.  Moreover, If I Stay marries serious questions about mortality with the concrete reality of human relationships and emotions.


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