If I Stay by Gayle Forman
What would you do if you had to choose?
If I Stay begins with The Perfect Snow-Day Morning. There are chocolate chip pancakes, and a Dad who wears a bowtie and smokes a pipe with cheeky aplomb, a Mom who is a horrible cook with a fierce attitude, and a little brother who is adorable and hyperactive, banging on his drums. There is mention of the sweet rocker boyfriend, whose band, Shooting Star, is blowing up. Then the family is off for a drive through the Oregon snow to visit family friends and the grandparents.
Life doesn’t flash before Mia’s eyes in a second as the accident happens. She finds herself looking at the wreck of car and bodies in the snow, and her own body, in some detached state of existence. And she has no idea how to come back to herself. She stands by watching as the ambulance comes, sees the fates of her family, and follows her body to the hospital. And through flashbacks interspersed with her current half-state, her story unfolds for us. The life Mia lives before the snowy drive is full of tremendous hope and promise. She is a seventeen year-old cello prodigy forced to make difficult life decisions. Should she follow her ambition to study music at Juilliard far away from her Oregon home, or should she stay close to home with her first love, Adam, her loving family, and her tough-as-nails best friend Kim?
We come to realize what she has lost through these flashbacks, and what is still very much at stake as she is faced with the most difficult decision of her life. Mia’s life is all the more vibrant because it is juxtaposed so flawlessly with the darkness of her predicament. Gayle Forman has some serious writing chops — she moves seamlessly between past and present, and it is never heavy-handed or manipulative.
Her characters have stayed with me — I grew to love her father, and her grandfather, who struggles through his tears to tell her he’d understand if she has to go (that part slayed me). I loved ever-sarcastic Kim, who begs Mia not to die, so they can avoid one of those cheesy Princess Diana memorials at school. And Adam’s plight to get Mia to stay is heartbreaking. He doesn’t care if her living means she’ll have to leave him behind, he just wants her to exist.
Should Mia stay? By the end of the story, you’re taking this question as seriously as she does, and the answer is not as simple as you’d think.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Yes, you will cry. You may even sob — as in, blubbering, splotchy-faced, gasping-for-breath sobbing. But you will come out of your tears will life-affirming hope. And you’ll feel that it has been beautifully earned.
To sample a bit of If I Stay via Gayle’s website, click here.
And check out the book trailer here. Bach on the cello is a magical touch.