Just finished…If I Stay (Spoilers)

(by Gayle Forman)

Review by Tony Talbot

Mia is a seventeen year old girl caught in limbo when the car carrying her and her family is involved in a fatal crash. Stuck between dead and alive, she discovers she can observe her gathering relatives, and learns that all the other members of her family have died except her.

Accepting she has a choice – live or die – Mia hesitates between the two, wondering what she has to live for now her family is dead. If she dies, she won’t have the pain of losing her family for real when she wakes.

Except…she realises her family is more than the people she lives with. Her family is also anyone who cares for her, her boyfriend, her mother’s best friends, grandparents.

But it’s her boyfriend Mia feels most torn over. If she dies, she won’t have to deal with losing him to rock stardom while she moves to New York to perform at an elite music school.

Grief over losing someone is like that…making choices as to whether you want to feel again after someone close dies. Making a choice to love someone again one day, risking yourself losing them again. It’s part of defining who you are as a person: loss and coming to terms with that loss.

I liked Mia’s family and Mia. I liked the way they weren’t dysfunctional, but they weren’t perfect either; the way they argued and bickered, and still loved each other at the end of the day. I liked the tension between Mia and her boyfriend, Adam, the knowledge that love wasn’t all roses and sunshine, and it wasn’t going to be a happy ending either (though not in the sense of Mia dying). It made them all the more human to see their frailties and their flaws.

But I never got the impression that Mia was going to die voluntarily, which robbed the book of it’s most fundamental question. She seemed far too much of a fighter to give in so easily.

And for me, the book ended when Mia’s story was just starting. When she wakes and has to deal with the overwhelming grief and the reality of never having these people in your life again. The knowledge that she has to go back into her home one day and walk through the now empty rooms, empty of the people she loved, but still full of the smell and feel of them.

I don’t envy her that walk (like most people, I’ve done it more than once) but I never got to see it through her eyes and her strength. Which is a shame for such a nicely written book on such a powerful subject.


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