If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Reviewed by Devon
There is nothing scarier than the unknown. One of the scariest parts in a teenager’s life is deciding their future. But what if the future meant either life or death? If I Stay by Gayle Forman tells the story of Mia, a gifted cellist, who suffers a fatal car accident alongside the rest of her family. As her parents and younger brother all pass, Mia is somehow stuck in between life and death, watching life from some sort of out-of-body experience. As her family and friends and boyfriend, Adam, all come together to hope and support her during her coma, Mia must make the decision whether she wants to stop fighting and be with her family, or if the rest of her life is worth living without them.
Life and death are seemingly taboo topics. What happens after we die is even harder to have a grasp on. But Forman writes about the topic very easily, that you don’t even really notice that the whole book is centered around the choice between life and what comes after. Forman doesn’t force a particular religion upon her audience, or particular ideas about an afterlife. Instead, she centers her writing on the choice aspect. People in Mia’s life beg her to stay, but there are also those who understand that that may not be what Mia wants, and one of the most moving scenes in the novel is when Mia’s grandfather tells her that while he wants her to live more than anything, he would understand if she couldn’t bear to stay. Mia struggles with the thought of leaving Adam and her best friend, Kim, along with her grandparents and the rest of her extended family and friends. But she also believes that a life without her parents and Teddy, her brother, would be too much to bear. But the main question throughout the book is: what makes life better than anything else? At the end of the book, Mia is faced with a choice. Her ultimate choice. And as the novel comes to an end, it seems as if Mia’s resolve to stay alive is too small to matter. But what I think Forman was trying to say with Mia ultimately staying, is that while hard decisions may seem like there could be no possible good, you don’t always understand the bigger picture behind it. Mia may not be happy with waking up, but the presence of love and support in her life, and the future that she had in front of her, should never be taken for granted.
One of the Mia’s biggest struggle is something every teenager suffers from: the fear of not fitting in. Mia always feels like an outcast in her family, not because of her looks, but because of her personality and interests. Her parents, outgoing punk rockers, and her brother, a ball of energy, are hardly like her, a quiet, reserved, classical music aficionado. Not only does she have this insecurity in her family, but also with her boyfriend, Adam, the lead singer of an up and coming rock band in the area. Music is what brought them together, but Mia still struggles with the fact that they are from two different worlds, especially socially. The book touches on a few instances throughout their relationship where Mia feels insecure about whether Adam is truly okay with the way that she is, and I think one of the best parts of the novel is when Adam assures her that he is in love with her the way she is. It teaches that the people who are most important in our lives would never ask us to change, but they love and appreciate the people we are.
If I Stay is honestly one of my favorite books. Not just because I think the story is cool, but because it is so raw and real, while hardly anyone can even relate to what Mia’s going through, almost everyone can relate to where she’s been. Everyone struggles with insecurities, that striking moment where you feel isolated from the people around you. Everyone has uncertainties about their future and what the future holds for them. And everyone has people that love them, whether they know it or not. One of the things about tragedy is that it brings people together, it brings out the best in everyone, and it shows the power of human love and life. I would highly recommend If I Stay to any teenager, young adult, or reader who wants to learn more about what it means to be alive.