Just Finished…If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I Stay - CoverSeveral friends have recommended If I Stay, by Gayle Forman, to me and it has sat languishing in my bedside table for a while now – this cover is for the version of the book I have and so must have been bought around the time of the film release. I can’t remember now if I bought this copy or if it was given to me to read – I have a feeling it’s the latter, but definitely can’t think who it came from. My author buddy Tony Talbot read and reviewed this on the Aside from Writing blog ages ago, so you can check out his thoughts there (spoiler alert!) if you like (also, it’s evidence of the recommendation!)

My thoughts… 

Before you are 20 pages in to this book, you are shocked into experiencing the same trauma as Mia. There’s so little pre-amble to the crash that it is shocking, even though you know that is what the book centres on before you start. You just don’t want this kind of thing to happen to characters like them – you feel how unfair and sad it is, when this type of tragedy strikes.

I found the comments and interviews (from the film actors) with Gayle Forman really interesting at the end, putting the story into context with her own experience of grief. There are so many facets of grief considered through the story: parental love for a child/younger sibling; romantic loss and that of losing your parents. Mia – sitting outside herself – is a very human, emotive vehicle for considering all these things, whilst reflecting back on the life she has lived and the relationships that have been built around her at that point.

This is, as you would expect, a difficult read in places. I think Gayle does a great job of managing the hard emotional parts of the present, with the backstory of the past. It has the mix in the book, just as you do with grief itself, of being overwhelmed by emotion and loss in one instant, then reminiscing and feeling the warmth of love, family and friends the next. I teared up a few times whilst reading, especially in the sections on Teddy, which Mia felt almost with a parental love for her much younger brother.

I think this is a story that will linger with you for a long time, whether it’s because of shared experiences of grief and how poignantly this is told within the story, or because of the emotion you feel for Mia’s fictional family and those of anyone in real life you experiences these similar freak tragedies.

This is a relatively short book and without formal chapters, you tend to read on through the scenes. Whilst very sad, I enjoyed this book, in so much as it has lingered with me the last few days since finishing and I’d like to read more about the characters I met.


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.