Author: Gayle Forman
Series: If I Stay #1
Date Published: April 6, 2010
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Given for a RAK!
In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. Heartrendingly beautiful, Mia's story will stay with you for a long, long time.
Seriously guys...this book is going to make run and find every single member of your immediate family and give them all a huge hug. You'll probably be sad and depressed...yet satisfied, if that makes any sense. I kid you not, never in my freaking LIFE has a book hit me so hard emotionally. I was reading this in one of my university's residential restaurants, and at first it was just a few tears. I wiped them away, then kept reading...soon I was balling like a baby and had to leave to just go sit in my car and straight up SOB. I'm not kidding. I had the whole chest-heaving, tears-pouring, snot-dripping, cry fest because this book was SO.EFFING.GREAT.
Right from the first chapter you know this isn't going to be a cute fluffy book. The accident is described in such vivid detail that I honestly felt sick to my stomach and am almost tearing up right now just thinking about it. Mia finds herself separate from her body and able to walk around the crash site and see all of the horrors that she shouldn't remember. Bits of white, grey, and pinkish matter splattered on the ground that used to be her dad's brain. Her mom lying on her side, the only visible sign of the massive internal injuries that killed her is the blood slowly filling up her staring dead eyes. Ugh...so traumatic.
The book isn't exactly paranormal. But since Mia is having an out of body experience and is, for all intents and purposes, a ghost, it kind of has that feeling to it. The way the story flows also adds to the ghostly, haunting kind of feel. There are no chapters, and almost no sense of time passing. The entire story encompasses about 2 days, but it flows back into time to relive memories of the past, and then forward to what "could be" if Mia decides to say. It's cool because you wonder if that is what it's like when you die. Do you hover around for a while? Do you try to get back? Do you get lost in a sea of memories because you no longer have any control of your brain functions? This is honestly one of the most unique books out there because it takes pieces and slivers of all sorts of different genres and writing styles and mashes them up without making it clumsy or distracting all while dealing with one of the biggest questions humans can ask themselves: What happens when I die?
Character-wise, there is a lot going on. Aside from the amazing presence that is Mia, the side characters are really what makes the story pop and stick with you. Despite knowing that Mia's parents die (horribly), some of the flash back scenes about them were my favorites. I love it when parents are represented as real people instead of just stumbling blocks for the main character to deal with. You really gain insight and understanding into how great, individual, and just amazing Mia's parents are when you see how they treated each other, how they reacted to Mia and I was just amazed that Gayle could take us back and forth from the horror of that first chapter to other happier times with so much ease. Even the happy chapters have this achingly beautiful pain about them. You grow to love people who you've already seen dessicated on the ground. You feel their loss so much more as you see how they lived, experience their love for one another, and interact with people they cared for. It really strikes a nerve (and the tear ducts) when you realize that all of that is now gone forever.
It's amazing that in such a completely tragic story there is a definite romance element. Partially due to the flashbacks, you really grow to love Adam and how much he cares for Mia. You see the struggle it took for them to bridge the gap between cliques in their school so that they could be together and Adam shows that he really cares for Mia inside and out. The scene when he breaks into her hospital room is simultaneously hilarious, romantic, and depressing and you find yourself bewildered that you can feel all these emotions at one time. The only downside was that it seems like the only thing that keeps Mia here is Adam's plea that she do so. Don't get me wrong...it was tragically romantic and heartbreaking and swoonworthy and everything...but it made it seem like the only reason Mia was staying was to keep Adam happy, and after all that has happened to her it would have been nice to see something else be the catalyst that gets her to pull together and make it through.
As kind of a side note that really doesn't have much to do with the plot or characters or anything...but I loved all the different musical references in the book. It might be a little hard for people who don't play or listen to a lot of music to relate to, but since I am a verified high-school band nerd I really appreciated all of the classical music. There was this amazing mix of rock, emo, punk, and classical music references and I thought the musical elements were kind of the blood that connected all of the pieces of the story together. Music drove Mia's family, it's what brought her parents together, what brought Mia and Adam together, and partially what allows Mia to decide to stay. The musicality paints the scenes with vibrancy and life and I feel like the book would have been very incomplete without them. Very cool indeed.