If I Stay by Gayle Forman

9th Aug 2010

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay is the story of Mia, a seventeen-year-old cellist with an idyllic family, a rockstar-to-be boyfriend whose band is signed with a label in Seattle, and worries about choosing between staying at home in Oregon and moving to New York to study music if she’s accepted by Juilliard. Then, on a drive with her parents and baby brother, Teddy, their car crashes. The next thing Mia knows, she’s surveying the scene of the accident, watching her damaged body being extracted from the wreckage and her parents’ mangled corpses being removed by paramedics.

Over the next twenty-four hours, although her body remains comatose in intensive care, Mia can see and hear the aftermath of the crash; the heartache of her friends and family as they convene at the hospital, the overworked nurses monitoring her injuries, and the doctors squabbling over what music to listen to in the operating theatre. Scenes from the hospital are alternated with Mia’s memories of her parents, her relationship with Adam and her love of music, as Mia comes to understand that it will be down to her to decide whether or not she stays.

Loosely based on a real-life tragedy, If I Stay closely echoes Alice Sebold‘s 2002 bestseller The Lovely Bones. And although the concept is not new, the format is moving (I read it in one sitting on a busy train and nearly ended up blubbing on several occasions), because worries about our nearest and dearest being hurt or killed is a fear everyone can empathise with. The downsides are similar to The Lovely Bones too; at times the descriptions can be over-emotional and so sentimental that they make the text seem voyeuristic and uncomfortable. Although some of the characters remain irritatingly two-dimensional, Mia’s parents especially are richly and affectionately portrayed as warm and multi-faceted, demonstrating the ways our identities are influenced and shaped by family history.

Whilst I don’t necessarily trust Hollywood not to distort If I Stay into over-sentimental mainstream claptrap, the novel is poignant and compelling. If you adored The Lovely Bones, my guess is that you’ll love this too. It’s £4.57 from Amazon.

Post by Jane Bradley