Thursday, April 28, 2011
Review: If I Stay
I wish I had my students with me right now to help me with this review. If I Stay is a book I had been hearing about for about as long as I have been writing a book blog. It is a novel written for YA readers, but If I Stay has an appeal that is much broader than that label implies. If you've been paying any attention at all to the numerous reviews, you probably know the basic plot of the novel: seventeen-year-old Mia is a gifted cellist who is critically injured in a car accident that kills the rest of her family. The title: If I Stay, is a reference to the decision Mia must make: will she decide to live, or will she slip away and join her family in death. Mia's friends, her rocker boyfriend Adam, and her remaining family (including her grandparents) are waiting for her, hoping that she lives. In a plot device that requires the reader to willingly suspend disbelief, Mia is detached from her body, and is able to wander the hospital watching herself, her family members, and her boyfriend.
Since character comes first for me as a reader, this book really worked for me. I loved Mia, her parents (former punk rockers), her boyfriend, her little brother, and her friends. Gayle Forman has a gift for writing about young people in a way that is realistic, and never condescending. The relationship between Mia and Adam is tender but real. Mia and Adam are in love, but their love is not without complication. The conflicts between the young couple revolve around music and identity; I liked these teen characters because they had real interests, and their relationship was based on true intimacy, not superficial attraction. Sexuality is not avoided, but it is not made all-important either, and I admired the delicacy with which Forman depicted the physical aspect of the relationship between Mia and Adam. Completely avoiding a physical scene would have seemed false, but the scene is not explicit or inappropriate for younger readers.
This morning in one of my classes I held up my library copy of If I Stay and recommended it to my students. Several students chimed in with recommendations, and we had a lively discussion about the book--I saw several heads nodding, and heard a few students say they'd like to read If I Stay. My devoted readers are a wonderful resource--I trust their recommendations. Now that I've read If I Stay I can happily recommend this novel not only to my high school students, but to adult readers as well. Writers would do well to read this book for its skillful pacing and narrative tension. Writing for a younger audience must really keep a writer on her toes. I know from personal experience how easy it is to lose a teenager's attention.If I Stay will appeal to teenagers especially because of the beautifully written characters, the inherent drama of the situation, and because teenagers are riveted by novels that directly confront death.Readers of all ages will enjoy this novel for pretty much the same reasons.