If I Stay (If I Stay, #1) by Gayle Forman
Published by Dutton Juvenile on April 2, 2009
Genres: young adult, contemporary, coming-of-age
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I’ve heard many good things about this novel: how heart-wrenching and deep and beautiful it is, how palpable and real Mia’s grief is. So perhaps my expectations of it were a little unrealistic when I first picked it up.
It’s not a bad book, by any means. In fact, I think it’s a great concept, and I think Foreman handles the subject well. Sometimes, all it takes is one unexpected, tragic event is all it takes for us to completely reevaluate our priorities and purpose in life.
I loved how she showed Mia’s friends and family members coming together to support each other. Believe it or not, a strong, supportive community is kind of a rarity in YA literature (but maybe I read too much fantasy and sci-fi to make a statement like this). These bits where we see Mia’s family and friends trying to cope were definitely the strong point of this novel. The relationships between Mia and her parents, Mia and her brother, Mia and her extended family all felt realistic and genuine. It made my heart hurt for them as they dealt with the pain of losing family members.
However, with some exceptions, besides those aforementioned scenes, I found myself surprisingly unemotional while reading the rest of this book. Maybe it’s a me thing, but I expected this book to make me cry right along with Mia’s friends and family. But instead of feeling a mixture of intense emotions like I expected to, I felt nothing.
I might sound a little callous by saying this, but I never really felt as connected to Mia as I wanted to be. She seemed kind of like a ghost the entire book (maybe that’s because she kind of was), merely a window through which to glimpse her family and friends’ reactions. In the span of only several days (hours?), she loses both her parents ((SPOILER)) as well as her brother ((END SPOILERS)) and that’s not an easy thing to deal with at all. And, while I sympathized with her in the moments she discovered these things, I didn’t really feel very sorry for her throughout the rest of the book. (I know how terrible that sounds, believe me.) I understood why she felt the way she did, but I wanted to feel that way with her, to connect with her. Instead, I felt the way she did: My reading experience was like being present to the plot and the situation, but being unable to interact with any of the characters. And that was disappointing for me.
Also, I felt Mia’s relationship with Adam moved way too quickly for me to feel like I could get behind it, and I would have liked more build-up there so the relationship could have seemed more authentic. Their relationship is one of the major stakes in Mia’s decision, and, because the relationship didn’t really register with me emotionally, I didn’t feel as invested in her decision and its consequences as I could or should have been.
However, I did like how Foreman explored the idea of how people can grow apart, and, even if Mia’s death might not separate them, maybe their own lives might; that was a really interesting, realistic take that I wish we saw more in YA fiction. Also, Adam’s little speech to her was enough for me to add an extra half-star all by itself, because that scene made me feel the way I’d been hoping the entire book would make me feel. That scene was beautiful.
So, the final verdict is that this one was underwhelming for me, unfortunately. I might check out more of Gayle Forman’s other works in the future; many of my reviewer friends highly recommend them. In my opinion, Amy Zhang’s Falling into Place took a similar subject, but turned it into a lot more impactful of a novel. If you’re looking for a YA contemporary dealing with how tragedy unites, binds, and strengthens, I’d recommend that instead.