February 7, 2012

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

It was all the hype surrounding the release of Where She Went that actually got me interested in reading If I Stay. I was aware of the love it received upon its publication a couple of years ago. But even though it appeared to be universally loved, I never picked it up, as I tend to be somewhat leery of coma/out of body experience stories. It's not that I've read a ton of them, but in the few that I have read, I've had a hard time connecting to the main character. What with them being . . . well, comatose and all. So I'd pretty much decided I wasn't going to try this one, until the blogosphere had a collective meltdown over there being a sequel at all and then at how awesome it apparently was. You know how hard it is to resist that promise of a sequel that lives up to (possibly even surpasses) its predecessor. I'm certainly not able to hold out against it for long. So I snagged a copy of  If I Stay  and ignored my niggling concerns to see just what all the fuss was about.

Mia comes from a musical family. From her ex-rocker dad and groupie mom to her adorable drummer of a little brother, her family has music in its bones. And Mia does, too. But not in exactly the same way. You see, Mia loves classical music. She's a dedicated cellist and just waiting for that acceptance letter to Julliard. Her loving family supports her passion, if they remain a bit bemused at how straitlaced and determined she is. Then the unthinkable happens. Mia wakes up to find she's been in a car crash. Her entire family was in the car, and now she's in a coma and her parents and brother are . . . gone. From a foggy distance, Mia watches life go on and alternates between watching her body in the hospital and flashbacks to life before the crash, to her relationships with her family members and with her sweet musician boyfriend Adam. What will happen, Mia is not sure. Is there anywhere to go from here? Is she stuck in an eternal in-between? And most importantly, will she ever have the chance to tell her loved ones how much they meant to her?

My emotions about If I Stay have not faded over time. It's a monumentally quiet story, and the reader drifts along with Mia on a gently wistful refrain of loss. In fact, it's so quiet and gentle that it borders on bland. Which is not to say that I didn't like Mia and Adam and the rest. I did. Very much. And I'm not sure what I was expecting, but what I got was much lower key than that. The writing was competent and unobtrusive, the characters sympathetic, and the situation (naturally) absolutely heartbreaking. But I wasn't consumed. I wasn't so attached that I couldn't put it down. But I kept reading because I did feel fond of these characters, and I really did want to find out how Gayle Forman would resolve Mia's story. And here's where things get interesting, my friends. Because If I Stay has the best ending I've read in some time. And I am not even a little bit joking. I am seven kinds of serious when I say that this book ramps up to one humdinger of a climax. It was so good it took my breath away. And it sneaks up on you like nobody's business, so that when it does happen you immediately look back on the whole in wonder. Because it really was more than the sum of its parts. It was one of those not just a good ending, but the only one, you know? And all I could think was how well-crafted it was, how seamless and inconspicuous, how softly it crept, all so that you could experience the sheer magnitude of that ending. Honestly, I was just so impressed. It was the perfect ending, and truthfully I wasn't sure at all that I wanted a sequel. Which is actually how you ought to feel after finishing any book, isn't it? Bravo, Ms. Forman.


Linkage
Books for Company Review
Giraffe Days review
It's All About Books Review
Maw Books Blog Review
Medieval Bookworm Review
My Friend Amy Review
Novel Thoughts Review
One Librarian's Books Review
Presenting Lenore Review
See Michelle Read Review
StoryWings Review

30 comments:

  1. The blogosphere has said many wonderful things about this book but I never got around to reading it either...it sounds like I should though. Thank you for writing a review that changed my mind :)

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  2. When I read this book, I started crying from page 100 on. I could not stop crying and my husband thought I was a basketcase. Well I was, this book was so emotional and quiet that it quite literally drove me to tears. Such a lovely book.

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    1. Laura, aww. It seems to have had that effect on a widespread basis. I admired the ending so much.

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  3. I read this book before the sequel was even mentioned around the book world, and I'm glad. It was a weepy one, that's for sure! I did like it very much. Her grandfather talking to her was just the most heart wrenching part of the book. I don't plan on reading the sequel, though. I felt like it didn't need one.

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    1. ms. caboo, nice. I agree that it didn't need a revisit. I wouldn't recommend it.

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  4. I really enjoyed this book when I read it. And cry...I sobbed my heart out when her grandfather was talking to her. I also really liked the sequel a lot! It was interesting to see the emotional reaction to the events that happened in these books after the immediate action was over.

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    1. Marg, that's a particularly hard part, isn't it? I'm glad you enjoyed the sequel. I loved the majority of it. Had trouble with the end, though.

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  5. This is one of my FAVORITE books (my review here, if you have any interest: http://everydayreading.blogspot.com/2009/04/if-i-stay-by-gayle-forman.html). I just thought it was absolutely perfect.

    I do not, however, like that new cover. So. . . .comatose.

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    1. Janssen, all linked up now! How did I miss yours? I'm so glad I finally picked it up. It's so well done.

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  6. As you said, this book (and the sequel) have been almost ubiquitous in the blogosphere and in my "real" life for a while now. And after hearing your reaction to the ending (seven kinds of serious is very serious), I will be reading this one as soon as possible.

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    1. Jess, lol. Totally serious. Hope you enjoy it!

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  7. If I Stay has gotten rave reviews from book bloggers and while I was curious, I felt like I didn't need to hurry to read it. Until I saw Melina Marchetta recommend it on Twitter (and say that Adam and Tom Mackee will be mates if they ever met). Your review has further encouraged me to read this as soon as I can.

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    1. Chachic, oh, that's interesting. I've heard a few others compare those two boys as well. You may really enjoy it, then.

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  8. Initially I was skeptical of this book (Another book about death for teens... great?). We read it for our Mock Printz when it first came out. I loved it. I devoured it in a couple of days and when I heard about the sequel, I think I was one of the first people on the list at the library. Adored that one too. An excellently well written story that (you are exactly right) creeps up on you and slowly engulfs you in the end. You have to read the next one. It's just as good as the first.

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    1. Faith, I know. I was all about the slow creep with this one. I did read the sequel. Loved most of it, but, alas, the ending wasn't right for me.

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  9. I liked If I Stay as it was - yes, it was quiet and really came together for a WOW ending. I think, as reviews go, it is hard to say that this book will rock you as blatantly as, say, AUDREY, WAIT! but it will seep into your brain and leave a lasting impression!

    Did you read Where She Went yet? The sequel works, and it answers the obvious question of what happens after. However, in my world, If I Stay > Where She Went, but that is just me :)

    Great review! I loved how you wrote about the ending and how it left you with some food for thought - it was eloquent, simple, and honest!

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    1. Cecilia, WOW is right. :) I have read the sequel, but I completely agree. Doesn't hold a candle as a whole to IF I STAY.

      Thank you!

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  10. I finally read this book myself about a month ago. I wasn't going to ever read it either as it was just going to be too personal and I going there didn't appeal to me. This book ripped my heart apart in the best way possible, I did find it impossible to put down and read it in one sitting, which is rare for me. I agree, you are so right about the ending! I'm almost reticent to read Where She Went because I almost don't want there to be anything more after that perfect ending.

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    1. Heidi, yeah. I have a hard time picking up the heavy hitters sometimes. But very glad I did here.

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  11. I also very much enjoyed this one. I don't know that I connected with the characters as closely as I had wanted to. But the story, plot, and concept were brilliant. Hand it to my students all the time. Just find myself wondering when I'll get around to reading number two!

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    1. librarian, I felt removed as well. Until the end and the emotion I'd apparently been carrying without noticing it crashed over my head. Brilliant.

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  12. I read If I Stay when it was published and I very much enjoyed it(and I cried a whole lot :/ whilst reading the book). I pre-ordered the sequel as soon as it was available for pre-order but I still haven't read it. Like you I'm not sure if there is need for a sequel and I'm a bit scared to read it to be honest. So happy that you ended up liking If I Stay, Angie.

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    1. Mari, tread cautiously. It wasn't my cuppa.

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  13. I think I may need to give this a reread, because I was not entirely blown away by it. And I can't seem to recall the ending, which is a sure sign I need to try again!

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    1. Melissa, I wasn't at all until the end. Kept asking myself why people were so nuts for it. Until the end. Then I got it. :)

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  14. I am forever and always in envy of your way with words, Angie.

    That ending it definitely left me breathless and thrilled and I thought it was perfect.

    And I feel exactly the same as you about the end of a book - it should leave the reader satisfied and be able to stand on it's own. And that's precisely what If I Stay did.

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    1. April, YES. It did is so splendidly. Should be in a writing textbook or something.

      And thanks for your always nice comments, lovely.

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  15. Totally agree with the way it "softly creeps" towards a perfect ending - nicely put! I too avoided this book because the premise didn't interest me, until I finally picked it up last month after hearing a blogging friend praise it so often. Here's my review. :)

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    1. Shannon, thanks! And I've linked to your review. Sometimes we skeptics do see the error of our ways, don't we? ;)

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