The Bookworm's Corner: The Final Choice"If I Stay" by Gayle Forman
By: Yuliya Nemykina, East High School
Buffalo News once called Gayle Forman’s “If I Stay” “reminiscent of Alice Sebold’s ‘Lovely Bones,’” and I couldn’t agree more. The juxtaposition of a horrifying event and the many scenes of beauty and joy is just as jarring, but there are two big differences. “If I Stay” is too short to explore any characters but the narrator and perhaps her boyfriend, and there’s so much talk about music, you feel like there should be a complementary CD.
The story opens with an accident on a rural Oregon road that kills two adults and leaves their aspiring-musician daughter, Mia, a specter outside of her comatose body, separated from her younger brother, Teddy, when she is flown to a larger hospital as opposed to his staying at the local medical center.
Although the subject matter may seem a bit stale, the angle seems to be more unique. Unlike all the Lurlene McDaniel’s characters who unquestioningly fight for their survival, Mia wonders if she will can be forgiven for giving up even as a nurse informs her relatives, and by circumstance the readers, that she is the only one who can force herself to wake up.
We are not a culture of insane survivalists ala “Saw,” and Forman hammers that point home, or at least I hope that’s what she’s doing, because the book may seem quite shallow otherwise. As Mia floats through her memories, there are some obvious pros and cons to waking up. Pro- there are people in the hospital lobby that clearly love her; con- she’s now effectively an orphan and her previous decisions have put her into a situation where she will have to leave her loved ones behind even if she does wake up. However, it’s the small things that give her hope in a time when her death would resolve all the doubts she was having during her life.
And that’s where music comes in. Really, almost every character’s life revolves around it, as Forman uses melodies as a metaphors to show how different classic-musician Mia is from her rock-band family. Music brings her together with her boyfriend even as their preferences clash, and provides her future.
However, the main problem of the book is that between the musical scores and Mia’s angst, there is little development of relationships past music preferences. Even Teddy seems to exist only to highlight her status as the black sheep of her family. If this book was longer, I would have loved to see more character development.
Still, it’s understandably difficult to do in such a short space, and Forman uses short happy memories to lull the reader into mistaking “If I Stay” for some sort of suburban romance and jars them the next page by switching back to the hospital. The resulting lack of recovery time makes the story even more poignant as Adam fights to see his girlfriend, teaming up with her friend Kim to come up with daring and hilarious schemes (yes, there’s actual humor in this book until you realize why they have to come up with their plans). After all, it’s not as much a book about dying as about the insecurities that Mia has and overcoming them to face the people in her life, a situation familiar to any student off to college.
In any case, “If I Stay” is definitely worth reading solely for the sensory feast and the sense of reality as tragedy is defined by the small details. Maybe Joe Wright should pick up another music-filled movie.