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Friday, September 10, 2010

Review - If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I know, I promised you all a trek into the outback, but sometimes a book compels me to talk, jabber, and run circles in my head, and this happened to me last night. So here is my review of the book that did this to me last night (why does that sound so perverse?). I hope this post compels you to give me your thoughts or pick up the book and then give me your thoughts, cuz as you'll see, I'm still kind of doing the head scratching thing.

Goodreads summary: In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck... A sophisticated, layered, and heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make—and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

I had bought this book basically because I had seen it around and knew that many people had recommended it. I didn't know exactly what it was about because I just saw that it was on sale and said, 'eh, what the heck.' As a writer I kind of think it's good to do that once in a while because it gives you a slightly different perspective when you begin a book not knowing what it's about. Needless to say, the first chapter didn't do it for me. It was boring. It was full of telling. A family sitting around the kitchen table on a snow day and deciding what to do? Really? That's a compelling first chapter? I yawned. I put the book down. I went to go work on my synopsis - and if you've ever written a synopsis you have to know that's how bad I thought this beginning chapter was.

Two days later, I came back to the book. And the beginning of the second chapter was much like the first. I was checking things off in my head. Nope, wouldn't do that. Ack, more telling. How did this ever get an agent's attention? And then I got to the middle of chapter two and WHOA! things dramatically changed. Suddenly this family that I'd been kind of mute about was gone, and Mia was standing outside her body wondering if she was dead. I was gripped. I was choking on sadness and I DIDN'T PUT THE BOOK DOWN FOR 4 HOURS. Yep, I stayed awake until one this morning to finish it. My eyes are quite sore even now and I'll probably have to drink two cups of coffee to get through the day. 

Obviously the book had something about it that compelled me to keep reading. Let me say right now that it wasn't the events in the story. I mean, honestly there really isn't a whole lot in the way of plot to this book. Most of it is flashbacks of Mia remembering the people in her life, and some of that was just as boring as the first chapter. I like music. I like classical music. I played clarinet for 10 years, but Mia's droning on and on about how the cello sang to her and how she realized that's what she wanted to do with her life, got a little old by about the third time I heard it. And still, I was compelled to keep reading. I could tell you that the book kept me riveted because I was anxious to know what choice Mia would make at the end, but I can't even say that. I knew what her choice would be from the minute she stepped out of her body. And yet, I kept reading. And crying. At one point I thought of what it would be like to lose my kids, or for them to lose my husband and I, and I nearly started sobbing. I had a stuffy nose when I finally got to the last page.

So now I'm sitting here scratching my head and wondering what the deal was with this book. The writing was good, but not spectacular. The voice was ok, but not awesome. The characters were unique and I liked a lot of the personality quirks that Forman gave them. They felt real, but was that enough to warrant the emotion I felt from this book? I don't know. I repeat, I DON'T KNOW. Sometimes I felt that Mia's memories were kind of boring. I know they were there to let the reader connect with Mia and her family, but again I found myself skimming ahead to get to the scenes where Mia was back in the ICU with her body. So, again, I don't know that I'd say the characters really did it for me either. Maybe it was just the subject matter itself, the tragedy that Mia went through and the way she got through it in the end. I'm not going to make some broad sweeping statement here and say write about something tragic and it will draw readers. I don't believe that. And maybe I shouldn't be trying to dissect the book to figure out what was so special about it. Maybe it was just a good story. There are those books out there like that and this may be one of them. In any case, I'd be interested to hear what others have to say if they've read this book. Did the characters really stand out to you? Was that the gripping factor? Or are we all just suckers for a good tragedy? The way we all stand around to gawk at highway accidents, it really makes you wonder.

Final score: 5 Yeah, I know, I sound like I didn't like it much, but if a book makes me cry for two hours straight then it's got something going on.

P.S. I see that Forman has a sequel to this out. If anyone has read it, let me know what you thought.


Joann Swanson said...

You hit on nearly every point that had me scratching my own head at the end of this book. While I actually did like the setup of the family and the backstory quite well, I felt disappointed in the end. The book seemed like one missed opportunity after another - the voice could have sung instead of whispered, the characters could have popped instead of remaining flat (with the exception of her parents - they were quite well developed, IMO). I think the premise was absolutely sound, but the execution and the plot quite static. I also felt like the issue with the brother (is he or isn't he?) was an afterthought to add more tension, like the author went back and peppered the question throughout to keep you turning the pages. Part of the problem for me was that I read this right after The Sky is Everywhere. Gram and Uncle Big are still with me (I didn't even have to look up their names!) while the cast of If I Stay is a blurry memory. Again, absolutely sound premise, though, and, as always, a fabulous review!

Meredith said...

I am dying to read this! I still have 6 books on my nightstand waiting to be read, but I'm starting to think I should ignore the queue and just get a copy.

Karla Nellenbach said...

I LOVED this book! For me, it was a combination of the tragedy and getting that peek into how very ordinary her life had been before the accident. It killed me because I knew that this could happen to anyone. Here Mia was, strolling along, happy as a clam, and then BLAM!! Her whole life is shattered. Yes, there were a few dry spots, and the writing while good was not stellar but this story was just so haunting.

And, hello?!? did i hear you say SEQUEL?!?!? When did that happen...must check that out:)

Angie said...

Joann - oh, I forgot to talk about the thing with the brother. Seriously what was up with that? Was he gone the entire time or was Willow actually taking care of him or what? I mean I kind of thought he was dead because all of the relatives were with her, but then if that was the case then why wasn't Willow there the whole time. It was just confusing. And you're absolutely right, about the voice and the characters. Still, like I said it moved me emotionally and like karla said it was kind of the idea that you can relate to it and know that it could happen to anyone.

Nomes said...

I know what you mean about this book. I felt much the same way and then BAM i was welling up with tears and i dont even know where they were coming from b/c I didnt realise that somewhere I had gotten involved.

i'm pretty pumped about the sequel which is from Adam's POV and set three years later (I like older protags in YA). It's not out yet though :) and the movie should be good i think - one of those premises where a movie is a great medium for the story.

weirdly, i think i loved this book more efter reading it than i did while i was reading it. which doesnt even make sense to me.

oh - and finally back on here (huge day yesterday) and YES chase crawford. he is so much less baby face and has dark hair and an older.lived more vibe :)

Angie said...

Nomes - I had no idea there was a movie coming out. I just glanced at the second book when I was on goodreads. I didn't bother to see when it was coming out. Will have to get it though.

Glad you like my Chase Crawford idea! I was kind of swooning over his pictures all day yesterday. Mel thinks he's a little too perfect looking. :) But I think I'll leave my vision of Sam to myself from now on. I like people getting to keep their own version of what they think he looks like.

Jennie Bailey said...

Now I have to pick this one up! I've been seeing it on different blogs, but I don't recall anyone doing an actual review of it to the extent that you did. You've got me hooked! Although, I really could use a nice boring book that doesn't keep me up late because my last four have done that and I'm dying for a proper nights sleep! I have a migraine this morning courtesy of MockingJay. But I will definitely pick this up at the library this week.

Bee said...

This book is sitting on my TBR pile. Guh, I gotta move it up, but I think the reason I've been avoiding it is cos I know it's going to be a heavy emotional ride and I've read quite some heavy emotional stuff recently, so I'm taking a little break from that (although those are the kind of books I love).
Guess I have to prepare myself for this, cos sibling deaths, even represented in fiction, kill me. Totally.



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