I have been so excited to read this, especially after receiving it as a birthday gift back in June (thanks DR - you know me too well!). After reading countless rave reviews and seeing the movie trailer, I couldn't wait to get started. Needless to say, I had fairly high expectations for If I Stay (this is starting to become a bad habit, because expectations are meant
to be broken and I'll only be setting myself up for disappointment). However, I was a bit weary of the plot initially. From the summary, the book sounded like a conglomerate of other works, from The Fault in Our Stars to My Sister's Keeper. I sensed the potential for a patchwork plot composed of completely unrelated storylines pulled from a variety of other books. Let's just say I was relieved that my prediction never came true.
Mia's senior year of high school is riddled with college applications, Juilliard auditions, cello lessons, and spending time with her rocker boyfriend, Adam. Mia's life is average, nothing extraordinary. At least until the family car skids on a patch of ice, crashing headfirst into oncoming traffic. When the smoke clears, Mia realizes that she is watching the scene of the accident as an invisible being, unable to interact with those around her and helpless as paramedics arrive to assess the situation. With both of her parents proclaimed dead upon impact, Mia is loaded into an ambulance, orphaned, helpless, and alone. In this hours to come, Mia repeatedly contemplates whether she should stay or depart this world forever.
The characters were...unique to say the least. This is the first book I have read to date featuring a cello player as the protagonist, which was a refreshing twist. Having played the piano for 11 years, I enjoyed the musical references and components which generally aren't found in the YA genre. I found Mia to be an honest, down-to-earth narrator who chose not to fabricate or embellish her story. Her painstakingly raw emotions were expressed with such clarity as a result of Forman's admirable writing style, impressing themselves upon the reader. Mia experiences a wide range of emotions throughout the book from elated and giddy to downcast and dejected, leaving readers both chuckling and sobbing along the way.
One of my only complaints is regarding the placement and content of the flashbacks in the narrative. The story alternated between the present and past memories or recollections of certain events and individuals. The transitions between some of these scenes were a bit shaky, causing the book to erratically jump from one unrelated thought to the next. On several occasions, flashbacks seemed to splice important plot points, causing the flow of the story to become a bit rough and disjointed. The flashbacks could certainly have been arranged more logically in the narrative, but this was only a minor irritant while I was reading.
Overall, the tender relationships, gripping plot line, and lovable characters made this a challenging read to put down, so I would definitely set aside some reading time before you begin. While lacking the action and adventure found in many popular YA books, If I Stay is a heartfelt, gut-wrenching novel that highlights each individual's mortality and emphasizes the cliche, yet startlingly true, advice to live life to the fullest. While I'm excited to see the movie, I doubt that any film could completely and truly convey the beautifully striking writing. Therefore, I'd strongly recommend to read the book before seeing it in theaters - even nonbelievers, you may be surprised. It's amazing that such a moving book can cause you to reconsider your past choices and decisions, wondering what you may have done differently to procure alternate outcomes. While it's certainly not a light read, it's a sentimental, meaningful one, one that truly hits home.