If I Stay by Gayle Forman is realistic fiction about a girl, Mia, who is in a horrific car crash with her parents, who die on the scene, and her younger brother, who dies in the hospital. The story is told through flashbacks as well as the present, where she is witnessing the events from outside of her body and deciding whether she wants to stay alive or die with the rest of her family.
Mia is 17 and a senior in high school; she is also a star cellist, who has auditioned for and is awaiting acceptance to Julliard. She has super cool punk rock musician parents, an adorable younger brother named Teddy, and a rock musician boyfriend, Adam. All is going swimmingly in Mia’s life until her family decides to drive to visit their family friends, Henry and Willow and their new baby, and are hit by a four-ton pickup truck. Mia is amazed to see herself standing on the side of the road, witnessing the devastation of the car and the carnage — pieces of her father’s brain are on the asphalt, her mother died of internal bleeding that has caused her eyes to turn red, and she’s horrified to see the hand of what she thinks is Teddy but soon realizes is her own hand. She’s in a coma and is having an out of body experience.
She’s taken to the hospital and operated on, and she watches the nurses and surgeons interact. She watches her grandparents arrive at the hospital, which is when she realizes that Teddy has died as well. She watches as her best friend, Kim, arrives with her mother, and finally, who she’s been waiting for, Adam arrives. He tries to get to her room but one of the nurses stops him. He and Kim come up with a plan to cause a distraction with the lead singer of the famous band that Adam’s band is opening for on their concert tour, but nothing works until Willow, her family friend that works for the hospital, gets them to allow Adam to visit Mia.
All of this is interspersed with flashbacks detailing Mia’s childhood, her relationship with her parents, her relationship with Kim, playing the cello and excelling, auditioning for Julliard, her relationship with Adam, the difficulties of falling in love as a teenager and having life take you in separate directions.
One of the nurses tell Mia’s grandparents that they need to give Mia reasons to want to stay here, that it is all up to her, so her family and friends come to talk to her. It is finally Adam who plays cello music in her room and speaks to her:
“If you stay, I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll quit the band, go with you to New York. But if you need me to go away, I’ll do that, too. I was talking to Liz and she said maybe coming back to your old life would just be too painful, that maybe it’d be easier for you to erase us. And that would suck, but I’d do it. I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.”
Then it is Adam who lets go. His sobs burst like fists pounding against tender flesh.
Mia finally makes her decision and feels all of the physical and emotional pain of her body as she wakes up. The novel ends with Mia squeezing Adam’s hand and Adam saying, “Mia?”
I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t the best thing I’d ever read. My students would enjoy this book, however. Mia’s life seemed just a bit too perfect for me: she has the coolest parents, her boyfriend is a rock star, she’s a musical prodigy on the cello, she and her boyfriend are so in love, blah blah blah. The writing was good, and I appreciated all of the musical terms that were included in different aspects of the book — the car doesn’t just crash, there’s “a symphony of grinding, a chorus of popping, an aria of exploding, and finally, the sad clapping of hard metal cutting into soft trees.”
The book raised some very interesting questions, most importantly, “what do you live for?” I can’t imagine losing my entire immediate family at once. However, I was glad that Mia decided to stay, because she and I were going to have some strong words if I read the entire book and she decided to die. Strong words.
Forman creates a cast of captivating characters and pulls readers into a compelling story that will cause them to laugh, cry, and question the boundaries of family and love. While out on a drive with her family, 17-year-old Mia is suddenly separated from her body and forced to watch the aftermath of the accident that kills her parents and gravely injures her and her younger brother. Far from supernatural, this shift in perspective will be readily accepted by readers as Mia reminisces about significant events and people in her life while her body lies in a coma. Alternating between the past and the present, she reveals the details and complexities of her relationships with family and friends, including the unlikely romance with her punk-rock boyfriend, Adam. An accomplished musician herself, Mia is torn between pursuing her love for music at Julliard and a future with Adam in Oregon. However, she must first choose between fighting to survive and giving in to the resulting sadness and despair over all she has lost. Readers will find themselves engrossed in Mia’s struggles and will race to the satisfying yet realistic conclusion. Teens will identify with Mia’s honest discussion of her own insecurities and doubts. Both brutal and beautiful, this thought-provoking story will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.
School Library Journal
When snow cancels school, Mia and her family pile into their beat-up station wagon for a drive. Unlike most 17-year-olds, Mia is secretly enjoying hanging out with her quirky family until an oncoming driver shatters their lives, leaving the gravely injured Mia with the ultimate decision: Should she stay or go? As a spirit-like observer, Mia narrates the next 24 hours, describing how her medical team, friends, boyfriend and extended family care for her each in their own way. Woven into her real-time observations are powerful memories that organically introduce Mia’s passion for classical music, her relationship with her boyfriend and her bond with her parents and brother. These memories reinforce the magnitude of Mia’s decision and provide weight to both sides of her dilemma. Forman excels at inserting tiny but powerful details throughout, including the realistic sounds, smells and vocabulary of a hospital, which will draw readers into this masterful text and undoubtedly tug at even the toughest of heartstrings.
This book would be good for a book talk with teenagers; it would also serve as a good display for warnings against drunk driving or safety while driving.
Forman, G. (2009). If i stay. New York, NY: Dutton Books.
IF I STAY. (2009). Kirkus Reviews, 77(7), 382.
Rashid, L. (2009). If i stay. School Library Journal, 55(5), 106. Retrieved from https://connection.ebscohost.com/c/book-reviews/39142151/if-stay