I am not usually an emotional person. I’ve gotten more so as I’ve gotten older, I won’t deny, but I’m not the type of woman who cries super easily. So when I find a book that can move me to tears not once, not twice, but at least four times, It’s definitely worth recommending. If I Stay is a young adult novel by Gayle Forman that was published in 2009. It tells the story of Mia, a young woman caught in an out of body experience following a tragic car accident. In this state, she is presented with a choice: whether to stay, and live with what she’s lost, or to go.
Note that this review deals with the book, and not the movie based on it.
If I Stay is a very tightly written book, and there’s very little I can say about it without spoiling something, so consider this a spoiler warning for the rest of this review
The book takes place within a twenty-four hour period, starting before Mia leaves on the deadly car trip and ends right after she makes her ultimate decision. Unlike most novels, there are not formal chapters, simply paragraph breaks and time notations, allowing the reader to see just how little time has passed since the accident. The lack of proper chapter breaks makes it harder to put the book down, keeping the reader trapped in the story world, just as Mia is trapped outside of her own body.
The story is told exclusively through Mia’s eyes, and utilizes flashbacks. While technically following the timeline of the story we only see Teddy and Mia’s parents for about an hour, these flashbacks allow the reader to get to know and even care about them, even after they’ve already gone. If the average reader is anything like me, they fall in love with these characters, and it’s absolutely crushing when we find out the one we hoped had survived didn’t.
Another technical point is how well developed each of the character are, and how believable they can seem. I’ve read a lot of YA fiction, and while main character are (usually) pretty well developed, supporting characters are either too adult like or just plain flat. In If I Stay, we catch glimpses of the lives of Mia’s few friends, and they have hopes and ambitions outside of her story. The same goes for members of her family and extended family. Never once while reading this book did any single character seem anything less than alive.
Every writer wants to cultivate an emotional reaction from their reader, and this book certainly accomplishes it. As I say before, it takes a bit to make me cry, but this book made me sob like a baby more than once.
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