As I’ve expressed before, reviewing secular fiction is a tough business. It’s more complicated than the Christian fiction that dominated my reading for years so I’m just going to follow suit with my methods of reviewing that and say this: If I Stay was probably the (best) most surprising read of the year for me. The reasons why I recount below. First, for anyone who may be unfamiliar with the material, here’s a little about what the book is about.
STORY: Mia, a high-school junior has a happy one with her kind-of hippie parents (her dad is a teacher and mom is a travel agent) and her younger brother, Teddy. Right now, she’s never really sure who she is or want to be. But coming from a musical family, one thing Mia is, is a talented classical musician who plays the cello. A talent her family has never experienced until her. Into this life walks a student transfer named Adam who Mia says just “was” when they met; he’s confident in who he is. Like her father, he’s a singer in a band and as his fame and recognition rises, he and Mia spend nearly every waking hour together. Though on this snow day when everything is not as perfect as their two years were, Mia’s life is forever about to change when it’s struck by tragedy.
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Expressing what I think of this novel isn’t going to be easy as I’ve probably already hinted at. For starters, the thing that pops most while reading it, is what a beautifully easy read this turns out to be. To begin with, the book is on the shorter side, and then the prose flows elegantly even as it shifts between Mia’s present and past. The latter is when we get to know who she is with Adam, how he encourages her and makes her feel, the ways he keeps her true to the music she’s passionate about and brings her into her own. The former is the more “agonizing” read as Mia wavers between leaving and staying. The opening is really quite good, pulling us into the story without revealing too much of the main characters past.
Surprisingly I don’t think I cried in the book though I found it a compelling story that kept me flipping pages and I liked all of the characters, a rarity in most books. Mia is an easy to like heroine who has to hold up the story and make it as believable as can be for the emotions to seem genuine. Adam too is a wonderful guy that pushes against stereotypes and I respected that he loved Mia so very much. Then there is that ending! Like, oh my heavens!
What was that all about? There’s this feeling that lets the reader decide what they want. Fortunately, a sequel is our there (I don’t expect we’re likely to see a film follow-up), and I do plan to read it (sometime!). To be honest though, it’s a book I don’t expect to like as well as If I Stay. There’s just something about this book that I cannot quite put my finger on. It’s both frustrating (asking us to go through all we did with Mia then giving back no solid place to land) and heartbreaking by providing us with a girl who we sincerely care about and root for.
About the Book:
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Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Speak (Penguin)
Publication Date: 2012
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Series: If I Stay, book 1
Genre: Fiction; Contemporary YA/Teen
Rating: 4 out of 5
Content: There are multiple uses of the f-word (probably 10 or more, several coming in the span on 2-3 pages), other milder profanities like sh*t, h*ll, etc. There’s some sensuality (making out, thoughts of removing clothes) and discussion of losing virginity; frequent medical issues refer to a girl who is embarrassed because she’s naked when medical personal work on her.