Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay (If I Stay #1)
By Gayle Forman

To Sum It Up: Mia is a talented cellist with a close-knit family and a very promising musical career ahead of her. There’s even a place at the prestigious Juilliard School looming in her future. But in a single moment, Mia’s life is shattered by tragedy. As she observes her unconscious self lying in a hospital bed and reminisces about the past, Mia has an extraordinarily tough decision to make. Should she return to her remaining family and friends, knowing how difficult and painful it will be to go on without those she loved the most? Or would it be easier to leave her old life behind and join those she’s just lost?

Review: I’m having a lot of trouble organizing my thoughts on this one, so I hope this review makes sense in the end. I’m always very wary of reading books like this because I absolutely hate it when tragedy is milked for every last cloying drop. I feel the same way about mawkish movies in which I can just tell that the director was probably ordering the actors to turn on the treacle so that the viewers will flood their popcorn buckets with tears. I’m not sure why syrupy books and movies have always bugged me so much; maybe it’s because I don’t like being told how to feel about something. If a book moves me to tears, I want it to be because the story has struck me in a genuine way and not because the author thinks I should be bawling my eyes out at a particular point. For me, there’s a fine line between a veritably emotional read and utter sap, and fortunately, If I Stay never even comes close to crossing into the dreaded territory of the latter.

Despite my skepticism (you might even call it cynicism) toward potential tearjerkers, I picked this book up because the reviews had been so glowing. I figured that if it didn’t turn out to be my cup of tea, I’d just set it aside. That never happened. This novel completely mesmerized me with its heartbreakingly beautiful story. I admit to having a hard time getting through some parts of the book without my eyes welling up, but never once did I feel like my emotions were being manipulated. Never. Nothing in this book ever feels forced.

I loved the portrayal of Mia’s tight-knit family and how close she was to her former rocker parents and her little brother, Teddy. They have their normal family squabbles, though, as shown through Mia’s flashbacks. I loved how realistically all of Mia’s relationships were depicted, including those with her best friend, Kim, and her boyfriend, Adam. The brilliant dialogue played a big role in making all of the characters so three-dimensional. There aren’t enough superlatives to describe Forman’s prose.

I know that what I’m about to say sounds incredibly trite, but this book resonated with me in a way that I can’t even articulate properly. There are some truly gut-wrenching, emotionally raw scenes in the book, but the grief and loss do not ring anything but true. I think that it takes a very special writer to accomplish this, and Gayle Forman certainly made a lifetime fan out of me with this stellar novel.

All in All: If I Stay is one of the best contemporary novels that I’ve ever read. If all contemporaries that dealt with weighty material were written like this one, I wouldn’t be so hesitant to read them.


  1. I've seen this book around, but I've never given it a chance. I have no idea why - I just thought that it's not something that I would enjoy. Based from your review I'm clearly wrong though, so I'm definitely reading this as soon as I can. I've always loved books with tight-knit families.

    Great review! :)

    Lyra @ Defiantly Deviant

    1. I didn't think that I would like it either, but I was so, so wrong. It completely blew me away. I hope you love it as much as I did!


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