Friday, January 15, 2010

Review - If I Stay

If I Stay (If I Stay #1)
by Gayle Forman
Date: 2009
Publisher: Dutton Juvenile
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
Pages: 201
Format: hardcover
Source: Indigo

Just listen, Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.

I open my eyes wide now.
I sit up as much as I can.
And I listen.

Stay, he says.

Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind?

Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it's the only one that matters.

If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

This book has been in my TBR pile for what seems like ages. It's not very long, so I thought it would be a quick, enjoyable read. Well, it was fairly quick. But I didn't enjoy it.

Mia is the only survivor of a car accident that kills the rest of her family. In a disembodied state, she putters around the hospital, alternately telling us the story of what's going on right now, and flashing back to moments in her life. Eventually, she realizes that she has a decision to make: should she let herself die and be with her family, or should she stay?

I have no problem with the basic premise of the story. I just don't think it was executed very well here. Mia's near-death experience is very atheistic and, as a result, rather boring. She can't walk through walls, visit Hawaii, or even talk to her dead family. She basically hangs around the hospital, spending a lot of time near her body. I have no idea why the author chose for Mia to have an out-of-body experience, since the same thing could have been accomplished by having Mia trapped in her body, unable to speak, but able to share her memories with the reader. I guess what I'm trying to say is that Mia's near-death experience was boring.

Then again, Mia herself is boring. As a character, I never really got a good feel for who she was. Everyone else in her life -- especially those who weren't that close to her -- had more character development. When the main character's parents' friends are more memorable than the main character herself... that's a problem. Another issue I had was that in these flashbacks, the children all spoke like adults. Not every child and teenager is that precocious, insightful, and overflowing with so much wisdom. It made the story difficult to follow, because I was never quite sure how old the characters were supposed to be, or how many years ago this flashback was.

I also never expected the accident to be so graphic. I'm not usually bothered by descriptions of gore in books, but this one almost had me vomiting. It seemed a bit gratuitous to me. We know the family is dead; we don't need such graphic descriptions of what's smeared all over the road. I almost put the book down at that point. Show, don't tell... yes. But you don't need to show everything.

And then there was the portrayal of the hospital. I find it difficult to believe that Oregon has such hospitals of horrors, and I'm wondering if some of those things weren't just thrown in for effect. Do the operating rooms really have blood stains on the floors? Do the nurses really have more ego than compassion? Are the doctors so detached from the feelings of their patients that they'll wheel a person down the hall with their genitals exposed? If all that is true, remind me never to visit Oregon; I'd never want to end up in a hospital there.

The writing was okay, but I was not impressed by the typos. After finding two in the first ten or so pages, I wondered if the book had even been edited. Obviously, making a good first impression wasn't a priority.

All in all, I was just disappointed. I thought the premise of this book sounded awesome, but I just couldn't get into it. I felt like I was rushing through all those flashbacks just to find something interesting... but Mia's out-of-body experience turned out to be even more dull. Skip this one... unless you need a soporific.

Plot: 3/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing: 3/5
Originality: 2/5

Overall: 2.4 out of 5


  1. Great review. I love when you said: "She can't walk through walls, visit Hawaii, or even talk to her dead family."

  2. Hey at least you finished it! I just did a post on something I just couldn't muddle through. It's rare for me, but I just couldn't make myself do it! Kudos to you!

  3. Great review! I actually thought about picking this one up and I probably will anyways (i'm stubborn like that) but it really made me think about when I'll be getting it.

  4. Great honest review!

    I actually enjoyed this one, but I love how you pointed out what you did and didn't like. :)

  5. It is really great to hear another viewpoint on this book. I haven't read it but all the reviews I have read until yours have been positive. it is great to hear a well-argued perspective.

  6. Great review! After reading only positive ones about this book, it's good to see another point of view.