If I Stay, written by Gayle Forman, bursts through the gate with a poignant opening line, “Everyone thinks it was because of the snow.” And immediately, even if you live under a rock and haven’t seen the movie trailers, the reader settles in to a sense of impending doom.

Forman does a phenomenal job of capturing the reader’s heart immediately. Her quirky characters welcome us in to their unexpected Seattle morning snow day. We meet a witty, loving family of four. The parents former rockers, now travel agent and teacher. The whole family overtly musical. The mother, who can’t cook, testing her ability to not burn pancakes; father retro in bow ties & smoking a pipe; toy dinosaurs spread across the lawn; a teenage girl looking forward to spending the day with her family, (clearly fictional). Building affection and a sense of companionship between the reader and the characters in brief snippets is a true skill. However, Forman does so with seeming ease.

As I read the first chapter, aware that something terrible was coming, I had the sensation of the click, click, click as you ascend to the peak of a large roller coaster. Just like that roller coaster, Forman takes you from heart expanding joy tinged with anxious anticipation and plummets you at heart racing speed. I was crying openly by page 13, which would have been less embarrassing if I wasn’t on a flight booked solid with passengers.

Even post-mortem, characters reach out to you. As the tragedy unfolds, Mia watches from outside her body. When she learns that her mother was sitting at the point of impact and likely died instantly, she reflects, “…how fitting it is that she was hit first, that she was the one to buffer us from the blow. It wasn’t her choice, obviously, but it was her way.” And as a mother, I know that I would wish to do the same. So, Forman reaches inside with her words and grabs your heart with a violent tug.

The story’s use of first person narration through Mia is powerful. The reader’s emotions parallel Mia’s feelings and perceptions and we experience each event and conversation in real time as they unravel. The entire book unfolds in less than 24 hours. We follow Mia through an out of body experience, and in and out of her own memories, as she grapples with the realization that she is the one who must decide whether to stay among the living or allow herself to slip into death.

The primary concept of the novel, being in control of your ultimate fate, may appear an empowering and comforting blessing. However, Forman flawlessly illustrates how the power creates a crushing burden of responsibility to decide between those already gone and those who will be left behind; between selfishness and selflessness; between two frightening unknowns.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this novel is the unexpectedly perfect descriptions. For example, as Mia watches herself on the operating table, she observes, “Blood. It is everywhere. It does not faze the doctors one bit. They slice and sew and suction through a river of it, like they are washing dishes in soapy water.” Later she compares the ICU to a casino stating, “The ICU is like that. You can’t tell what time of day it is or how much time has passed. There is no natural light. And there’s a constant soundtrack of noise…” She refers to kisses that by the next day had “evaporated like a dewdrop in the sun.” There is “a voice that sounds like shrapnel,” and a silence “So quiet you can almost hear people’s dreams.”

For me, the most emotional post accident scenes occur first when Mia’s grandfather gives her permission to die saying, “It’s okay if you want to go. Everyone wants you to stay. I want you to stay more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life. But that’s what I want and I could see why it might not be what you want. So I just wanted to tell you that I understand if you go. It’s okay if you have to leave us. It’s okay if you want to stop fighting.” And the second when Mia’s boyfriend begs, “Please Mia, don’t make me write a song.”

The only major complaint my Wicked Sexy Smart book group expressed is that the story ends too abruptly. However, I think this is a testament to a great ending. I believe that when you fall in love with characters and their story-line, you will always be left wanting more.

There are two things I look for in what I will judge a praiseworthy book: 1. good writing 2. the story moves me emotionally. Therefore, the intelligence of If I stay, from the vocabulary, to the humor, character development and imagery were a wonderful treat. This book also provided me with the other element necessary for me to love a book… it evoked strong emotion. And, although sadness was perhaps the overwhelming emotion, I also felt love, tenderness, joy and found a few passages that made me laugh out loud. All in all, I judge If I Stay a worthy read!

 

PS – Refer to my typical disclosures with regard to youtube and e-cards. My business law classes didn’t cover these things because I’m old and the internet wasn’t a thing when I was in college. And also, I took a picture of the cover of If I Stay today at Target. Then my husband popped my sim card out of my old cracked up phone and set up my new one. Good bye picture. So I’m taking my chances. If legal comes after me, I’ll remove whatever you want and make another trip to target. But meanwhile, I’ve promoted your shit. Your welcome.