if i stay- Gayle Forman- Review (spoilers)

if-I-stayI saw the commercials for the movie that is coming out that is an adaptation of this novel. It is very common for me to see a commercial for a movie based off a book and want to read the source material before seeing the movie. I usually do it because I do not want the movie to cloud my opinion of the book because I am a firm believer that the book will be better then the movie (and I can count on one hand the number of times that I have been proven wrong).

There were two real reasons that this story attracted my attention. Number one was the small supernatural feel that there is to the story. The main character, Mia, is sort of a ghost/ spirit that is hovering outside of her body as she watches her family try to cope with the accident she was involved in. Right off the bat that idea attracted me. If there is anything slightly out of the ordinary, my interest is peeked.

Second, the story looked extremely emotional. I read “Fault in Our Stars,” recently and I found myself disappointed in the lack of deep emotion I felt from the book. I went into the book hoping for emotion that would really affect me and I found it all very surface level. I saw the commercial for this book and thought that the movie looked packed with a range of emotions which meant that the book had to be as well. So I found the book hoping that I would hit a deeper emotional side of me  to fill the gap that, “Fault in Our Stars,” left behind.

I won’t lie and say I cried during the story. I am not an overly emotional person and getting me to cry outright is a extremely difficult task. Unless it is a pet or animal that is injured or dies I don’t usually shed tears. While I didn’t actually cry during this story I did feel my chest tighten at times. There was some moments when I did feel my heart break for the characters. I was impressed and happy how the book had me doused in this cloak of sadness and happiness at the same time.

The tagline for this book is, “What would you do if you had to choose?” Mia is 17 and is involved in a horrific car accident that kills her parents instantly and gravely injures her and her younger brother. The bulk of the story is her not only trying to get her head around what is going on, realizing what happened and watching her fight for her life physically; but it also about her trying to cope with her losses and determine if life is worth living without her immediate family.

We start out shocked and confused with Mia as she tries to take in everything that has occurred to her in a very short time. We fall into step beside her and feel the pain of being pulled in both directions. If she dies she leaves behind her extended family, her best friend and a boyfriend she is head over heels in love with. If she lives she has to somehow move on in a life that is missing three essential pieces.

Mia has a life that many dream about. Her parents are fun and loving. Her brother is the typical annoying brother but she is lovingly attached to him. Her parents don’t control her every move. She has freedom to make her own choices but they are right there to catch her if she falls. She has a loving, encouraging and fun family. By reading her small takes on the way life was once we see how her life had more smiles then anything else.
Mia is an accomplished cello player with a very promising career ahead of her. Before the accident she had an audition to Juilliard that went very well. Her life after school had a path, one that is scary for her but one she is also extremely excited about. She had a life that people would pay to have and in a few second she has to watch as that world shatters around her.

One of the nurses tells her grandparents that medically they have done what they can, now it is her turn to decide if she is staying or going. Does she stay and live with the pain and sadness that will haunt her every day from the moment she opens her eyes? Or does she go and leave sadness, grief and even possibly anger behind her? It is a monumental choice for a teenager to make.

We as readers can relate to her struggle and can understand her choices because we get glimpses of her life in-between the present day action. If we just got her watching her loved ones begging her to stay or we just get her thoughts about them it would be harder for us to really understand how hard it is for her choose. By being able to watch her life play out in small vignettes as we go through the story we see how this choice isn’t a simple black and white one. We see moments with her parents and brother that make you root for her to just let go. How do you live with those memories and know that they can never happen again? But then we get stories where we see her connecting with her grandfather, her boyfriend and her best friend. We see that while she has lost her family she hasn’t lost everyone who loves and supports her. It is a rigorous ride that we are taken on but in only this format can we really be able to relate to this young woman.

From the commercials the story looked like it was very much a love story. It would seem that the story is centered on her being in love with Adam and how he is one of her major reasons for considering not letting go. I was very happy to see that, that isn’t true. The love story is there but it isn’t the full focus of the story. Forman shows us that there are numerous aspects to Mia’s life and that she has to choose to live or die for a variety of reasons. No one person or event is going to keep her alive.

There was one scene that I thought was the most powerful in this story. (SPOILER) Mia realizes in a moment that everyone is at one hospital which means that her younger brother also died as well as her parents. She runs away and breaks down. We see her running around searching desperately for him, knowing that he was never in this hospital to start with. She is desperate for what she has realizes is not be true. Reading it I could feel that heart breaking desperation fully. I could picture myself running through the halls wanting to find my brothers, knowing that just as she did that they weren’t there but refusing to accept this realization because of the pain it would cause.

Not only is grief tearing her apart but she can’t actually outwardly show her pain. She can’t touch things and break anything like she wants. She has no way of really releasing that pain and even though it is only a few pages that was very powerful. Feeling her grief and then her frustration at not being able to properly express that grief hit me hard. That was probably the moment where I felt myself being choked up the most.

This book hit me hard, like I expected and wanted it to. I was not disappointed by the range of emotions I felt and had to deal with right beside Mia. I am interested to see the movie though I am really hoping that they don’t make her struggle purely driven by her love for her boyfriend. There is so much more to this story and if told right many different audiences will be able to relate and enjoy the movie.


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