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I discovered ‘If I Stay’ by Gayle Forman, during one of my bookstore visits recently. I liked the blurb on the back cover and as I haven’t read YA (Young Adult) literature in a while, I thought this would be an interesting book to renew my acquaintance with this beautiful genre. I finished reading it today and here is the review.

Summary of the story

Here is how the blurb on the back cover of the book reads.

Life can change in an instant.

A cold February morning…

a snowy road…

and suddenly all of Mia’s choices are gone.

Except one.

As alone as she’ll ever be, Mia must make the most difficult choice of all.

Haunting, heart-rending and ultimately life-affirming, If I stay will make you appreciate all that you have, all that you’ve lost – and all that might be.

The blurb on the front cover goes like this :

Living’s all about making choices. Dying’s no different.

What I think

If I can continue the story from the blurb, it will go like this – Mia, her parents and her kid brother Teddy go on a drive to their family friends’ home, on a day when it has snowed in a town near Portland, Oregon. Unfortunately, they have a terrible accident when a truck hits their car. Mia’s parents are killed. Mia discovers that she has been overthrown from the car and she gets up from the woods and gets back to the scene of the accident. She finds paramedics pulling someone out of the woods. She discovers that it is her body. She realizes that she is in a ghostly state out of her body and she doesn’t know whether she is alive or dead. When the doctors take her body to the ambulance, she realizes from their conversation that she is alive, but somehow in this suspended state, where no one can see her, while she can see them and her own body, like it was a different person. (There are no spoilers here, as all this happens in the first 15 pages of the book). Mia goes to the hospital in the ambulance and later she discovers that her grandparents, her relatives, her parent’s friends, her best friend and her boyfriend have come there to see her. Mia contemplates on whether she should live after this devastating accident, living in pain for the rest of her life bearing her terrible loss, or whether she should give up and die and go to the place where her parents have gone to. While Mia (who is in this suspended ghostly state) thinks about the choices open to her, her heart goes back and forth to the past and present as memories of her life flood into it. What memories flood Mia’s heart and what she decides to do form the rest of the story.

I liked ‘If I stay’ very much. It was fast-paced, and I finished it before I knew it. I also like the musical background throughout the book. Mia is a Cello player and her boyfriend Adam is a member of a rock band. Mia’s father is a former drummer and her mother is a music fan. Because of this there are a lot of musical references in the book – to songs, singers, bands, composers. There is mention of the classical music greats – Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Schubert – and modern greats like Yo-Yo Ma. There is also mention of many popular music singers and bands – Nirvana, Melvins, Bob Marley, Bette Midler, The Eels, James Taylor, The Clash. It was interesting to read that Glen Hansard’s and Marketa Irglova’s song ‘Falling Slowly’ inspired Gayle Forman while she was writing the book. (This song is there in one of my favourite musical movies ‘Once’.) Music plays a major role throughout the story, as important scenes are all marked by interesting pieces of music. I loved the musical references in the book and the description of the musical scenes. One of my favourite scenes in the book is when Mia tries to play Adam like a Cello and Adam tries to play Mia like a guitar – so romantic!

The story is sad and tragic from one perspective, and makes the reader cry. Forman says in an interview that the tragic accident is based on a real accident which happened to her friend’s family and one’s heart goes out to her. But from another perspective the book is about the difficult choices we make in life and how love sustains us and from that perspective it is an affirmation of life.

Excerpts

I am giving below some of my favourite passages from the book.

The road has some patches of snow, but mostly it’s just wet. But this is Oregon. The roads are always wet. Mom used to joke that it was when the road was dry that people ran into trouble.

She tells them that I am in ‘grave’ condition. I’m not entirely sure what that means – grave. On TV, patients are always critical, or stable. Grave sounds bad. Grave is where you go when things don’t work out here.

I thought of the tuning fork I used to adjust my cello. Hitting it sets off vibrations in the note of A – vibrations that keep growing, and growing, until the harmonic pitch fills up the room. That’s what Adam’s grin was doing to me during dinner.

The doctors keep coming around and pulling up my eyelids and waving around at flashlight. They are rough and hurried, like they don’t consider eyelids worthy of gentleness. It makes you realize how little in life we touch one another’s eyes. Maybe your parents will hold an eyelid up to get out a piece of dirt, or maybe your boyfriend will kiss your eyelids, light as a butterfly, just before you drift off to sleep. But eyelids are not like elbows or knees or shoulders, parts of the body accustomed to being jostled.

I don’t know exactly what’s happened to me, and for the first time today, I don’t really care. I shouldn’t have to care. I shouldn’t have to work this hard. I realize now that dying is easy. Living is hard.

He’s sprouting stubble, enough of it that if we were to make out, it would make my chin raw.

      ‘Jesus, Mia, your hands are freezing.’ He squats down, takes my right hand into his, and careful to not bump into my tubes and wires, draws his mouth to them, blowing warm air into the shelter he’s created. ‘You and your crazy hands.’ Adam is always amazed at how even in the middle of summer, even after the sweatiest of encounters, my hands stay cold. I tell him it’s bad circulation but he doesn’t buy it because my feet are usually warm. He says I have bionic hands, that that is why I’m such a good cello player.

      I watch him warm my hands as he has done a thousand times before. I think of the first time he did it, at school, sitting on the lawn, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. I also remember the first time he did it in front of my parents. We were all sitting on the porch on Christmas Eve, drinking cider. It was freezing outside. Adam grabbed my hands and blew on them. Teddy giggled. Mom and Dad didn’t say anything, just exchanged a quick look, something private passed between them and then Mom smiled ruefully at us.

Further reading / listening

You can find the list of songs and compositions mentioned in the book at Gayle Forman’s site here.

You can find the song ‘Falling Slowly’ played by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova here.

Final Thoughts

I enjoyed reading ‘If I stay’. It sometimes happens that we stumble upon a book without knowing anything about it, and we like it very much. I am glad it happened to me.

If you like YA literature, and don’t mind reading stories which are partly sad, you will like ‘If I Stay’.

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