If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left—the most important decision she’ll ever make.
Life is comprised of moments—both the exciting and the mundane— each strung together to form the intricate chain of our unique human experience. Some pass quickly and fade from our memory, like picking up the mail or stopping to buy fresh bread. But others stay with us and make an indelible mark. Maybe it’s the scent of your grandmother’s perfume or the first notes of the song you heard on the day you met your high school sweetheart, but some moments never truly leave us. And sometimes it’s the normal, every day things that become the sweetest reminders of what we know and love.
Life is like that for Mia. She has everything; not in a brash, My Super Sweet Sixteen sort of way, but in the way that matters. She has a bright future as a cellist, an incredible family, a cute boyfriend who adores her and big plans to attend Julliard. Her life is full in its warmth and beautiful in its simplicity, in the goodness that can sometimes only be recognized through mature eyes— or in Mia’s case, by those who are on the verge of losing it all.
In an instant the life Mia knows it swept from under her. A car accident destroys an average morning and Mia emerges from the side of the road, lingering somewhere between life and death. She watches as her parents are pulled from the wreckage , never to see her grow into a woman and she sees herself, battered and barely alive as she’s pulled from a ditch and rushed to the hospital.
In the time that follows, Mia witnesses those who are left of her family—her grandparents, her best friend, Kim and her boyfriend, Adam—consoling one another and praying for her to make it out alive. Throughout this, Mia flashes back to her life before the accident; to the moments that at the time may not have seemed significant: reading Harry Potter to her little brother, meeting Kim, nerves before her first cello performance as a child. And she recalls memories that forever marked her: her first date with Adam, taking a trip with her grandfather, finding out she was to be a big sister.
She quickly realizes that she’s left with a choice. Is the life she has left, a life that is uncertain, one she wants to experience or is it too painful to go on? She ponders what she’s lost and also what she’d be leaving behind, knowing that either decision will crush her.
I read this book months ago and the weight of emotion I felt that day still prickles in my chest. It was a novel I’d heard was excellent but had avoided because of the subject matter. Who wants to read about a family killed in a tragic accident? Who wants to cry their eyes out over the loss of life and unfulfilled potential?
But this is not the book I thought it was.
Gayle Forman wrote a story that throbs with love and heartfelt emotion. Every word was beautiful and perfectly laid out. And though I cried rivers while reading it, it never felt manipulative (like a Nicholas Sparks novel. Sorry Sparks fans. I hate books that set out to make you cry). I laughed and smiled and swooned and cried because I cared. Forman made me care.
It sounds so simple and I think that’s what is so brilliant about it. The simplicity is what makes it real and creates a believable story. I could see myself, my friends, my loved ones in the characters and could relate to the ease with which they lived their lives. The result was not morbid, but almost uplifting because despite her tragic loss , Mia uses her memories to find the strength.
Through her flashbacks I fell in love with Mia’s life—her cool parents and cute little brother, her deep love of music, her way of being ok with being a little on the nerdy side. And her relationship with her boyfriend Adam had me at hello. Their story is one filled with charm and swoon and real I’ve-just-met-my-soulmate commitment.
I really liked Mia because of the way she carried herself throughout the novel. Her conflict in deciding whether to stay or go is not one fraught with hysterical screams or uncontrolled sobbing, though yes, she is rocked with grief and shock. As she recalls her life and the people she loves and as she watches them grieve for her and her family, there are still moments of sweetness and laughter, moments of regret, and ones of aching romance. And yet every one feels authentic and heartbreakingly real.
I love this book. The very idea of writing a review for it intimidated me because I worried I wouldn’t be able to convey both how brutal and breathtaking it is. And truthfully, I can’t. Just read it.
Crush Intensity: 5/5 It’s amazing.
Soundtrack: There are so many great music references in this story, but none resonated with me like Mia’s favorite cellist, Yo Yo Ma.
“…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.” -Adam
“I watch him warm my hands as he has done a thousand times before. I think of the first time he did it, at school, sitting on the lawn, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I also remember the first time he did it in front of my parents. We were all sitting on the porch on Christmas Eve, drinking cider. It was freezing outside. Adam grabbed my hands and blew on them. Teddy giggled. Mom and Dad didn’t say anything, just exchanged a quick look, something private that passed between them and then Mom smiled ruefully at us.”
Don’t skip this one. Just have a box of Kleenex handy.