Adele’s Best Of 2009: If I Stay by Gayle Forman


by - January 25th, 2010


If I Stay by Gayle Forman

I have had a continuous stream of tears running down my cheeks for the last few hours. Between Jenny Downham (Before I Die) and Gayle Foreman, I have cried a lifetime of tears this past week. My house mate asked ‘why do you put yourself through it?‘ I had to think about it, for a fraction of a second, before I answered ‘because every word is worth it’.

Simply, this book wouldn’t be the emotional cruncher it is without some superb writing from Forman. Without giving too much away, she makes all characters in this story extremely real. It starts off as many YA stories do, some froth and a lot of great dialogue between Mia and her family. Once that chapter is finished, the tone completely changes. Mia and her family are involved in an accident and Mia’s trapped in limbo, witnessing the lives of those who care for her, and those she cares for in return, without the power to do anything but watch.

Forman walks the line between Mia’s recollections and the present with ease. Too often a book similar in intent would be manipulative, but I didn’t feel this at all. I felt Forman’s love for each one of these people, as if they were her own. That Mia’s loss, was her loss. The empathy that courses through this book is both inspiring and astounding.

Despite the somewhat dark subject matter this is a story of hope, life affirmation and all that it brings. The relationship between Mia and Adam is honest, they might be in love but they have real problems and they aren’t all solved with a snap of their fingers. Kim is an amazing best friend, sarcastic and strong, her appearances in the book are bold and bursting with love. I particularly love an incident in the playground that was the inception of the girl’s friendship. Mia’s parents made a huge impression on me, they sounded familiar, as if I had met them but avoiding anything resembling a cliche. The hospital staff, particularly Nurse Ramirez with her biting wisdom and infinite care, also made an impression on me. How much did she really know? Mia’s grandparents melted my heart, I have always heard how outliving one’s child is the worst thing imaginable but these two transcend the situation with some honesty and hope. I was shocked by how quickly this story and girl sucked me in – as the tears would attest.

Music has a large role in this book but it’s never clunky or awkward. Mia is somewhat of a cello prodigy and her boyfriend, Adam fronts a band called the Shooting Star. Her father is a former punk and her mother was one of those feminist rock chicks, both parents still retain their rockinsensibilities. When reading the acknowledgements I wasn’t surprised to see that Forman had been listening to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova’s Falling Slowly‘ (from the movie Once) while writing this novel, you could feel the song’s influence throughout each page. I think that could be the best comparison for this novel, it is to the written word as ‘Falling Slowly’ is to your ears – emotive, heartwarming, stirring, powerful and memorable.

This novel is about love. Love for your family and the family you make for yourself. The strength to follow your passion, to love your parents unconditionally and they for you, to have belief in people, to embrace music and life. It is also about choice, when no two options are easy, what would you do?

I ask: how long will it take for you to get your hands on this book?

Adele Walsh, book blogger of Persnickety Snark fame and trusted reviewer, recently selected her best young-adult reads of 2009.

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