If I Stay

If I Stay by Gayle FormanI am usually WAY behind the times when it comes to pop culture. Perhaps it’s my own special way of being “punk,” but when something becomes popular I typically either ignore the trend completely, or only check it out when it’s long been over. Like the show, Lost, for example. I watched it via Netflix for the first time last year. No one really cares about that show any more, it’s been canceled for quite some time, so I finally decided to give it a whirl. Harry Potter too; I just read that series a couple years ago, well after the last movie had been made.

Same thing with this book. Not only did they make a movie of it, it looked like a sappy chick-flick to me (which I only watch on depressing rainy days when I’ve had a really bad week). I read the book because my library had it in their eBook catalog, but they didn’t have anything that’s actually on my “to-read” list.

This book was just ok. I gave it 2 out of 5 stars on Goodreads. The book is rather short, which is good because it meant I didn’t have a chance to get too sick of it. It is a very emotional read at times, a little awkward at times, and sometimes the writing style lurched me right out of the story.

This review contains spoilers so if you plan on reading it and don’t want to know what happens, don’t continue with this post.

The gist of the story is this: a girl and her family go out for a drive and no one is quite sure why, but their car crosses the median and is hit by a truck. Everyone dies except Mia, the main character and voice of the story. Her body is broken, but her soul/spirit/energy/whatever lingers in the hospital until she decides whether she wants to stay or go with her family.

The author clearly has not spent much time around teenagers, and can’t remember what it was like to be one. It was difficult for me to believe that Mia was only a senior in high school. Sure, she was a cello prodigy and perhaps that brings with it a certain grown-up-too-early factor, but the vocabulary she used is not the vocabulary of any underage person I know; hell, it’s not even the vocabulary of overaged people I know. Every now and again she’ll use a word that’s far too sophisticated for a teenager to be using in everyday conversation and it pulls me right out of the story.

Once the accident happened, I found Mia’s reaction to finding her family dead a little too matter-of-fact. If I awoke to find my mother’s dead body with her ribs sticking out, or my father’s brains scattered all over the road, I might do a little more than simply describe the scene. Crying, falling, curling into a fetal position, never getting up again… these are some of the things I would probably do, but Mia basically just lists what she sees.

After the monotone description of her parents’ dead and mangled bodies, she then panics about finding her little brother, Teddy—finally, a little emotion—but by then the paramedics have arrived and she goes with them instead of looking for Teddy. She chooses to go with her body; it’s not like her spirit is attached to the body, being forced to be in whatever vehicle or room her body is in. She briefly freaks out about the possibility of her brother being dead, but when it comes down to it, she chooses to follow herself instead. When it finally is confirmed that Teddy died in another hospital, I think she is briefly a little emotional, but is quickly drawn into her own predicament again.

Throughout the book the thing we’re meant to wonder is, will she choose to live or die. She spends a lot of time flashing back to moments with her family, boyfriend, best friend and love of music, but never really talks about how any of that is affecting her decision. She’s just telling stories about what has happened to her in the past. And at the end, when she finally wakes up, it’s less of a choice and more like her soul being sucked back into her body by the music that her boyfriend, Adam, plays for her off his iPod. The resolution is lacking a concreteness, a solid, “yes I’ll stay,” or, “no I won’t,” and there is no reason ever given. Perhaps this is by design; perhaps we’re supposed to take what we’ve learned about her past and decide for ourselves what her reasons for staying were:

  • Music – seems likely; it’s what she talked about the most
  • Boyfriend – seems less likely since she only came back after he told her he would let her go if she just wouldn’t die
  • Family – seems plausible, but again, she spends very little time post-accident considering them

I still haven’t seen the movie, and doubt I will unless it’s on Netflix and a particularly dreadful day happens to wander by. I’m tempted to read the second book, written through Adam’s perspective several years after the accident, but only because I don’t like to leave things unfinished, not because I think I’ll like it any better than the first book.

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