Friday, January 28, 2011

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

The best books make us think.  More than that, they make us ask questions about our lives, our values, and the decisions we make.  If I Stay by Gayle Forman is that book.  It stays with you long after closing the final chapter.  It is a book that will leave you asking, What would I do?  And whether or not we agree with the main character, Mia, and her final decision, may say a lot about who we are as people.  That revelation may or may not make us uncomfortable with ourselves. 

The novel is set in a small town outside of Portland and Mia is the teenage daughter of a quirky family.  Her parents are former rockers and outspoken liberals who offer unwavering support to their conservative, musically-talented daughter, even if they don’t always understand her. Her younger brother, Teddy, has the passion and energy of his parents and hero-worship for his only sister.

Mia, as the narrator of the story, is soft-spoken and focused on dreams of playing cello at Julliard. At the beginning of the novel, her biggest conflict is how to tell her adoring boyfriend, Adam, that she may be leaving him to attend school across the country.  But in a split second, the author shows us that life can change and that the things that really matter aren’t always what they seem.

While considered dramatic fiction, there are aspects of the paranormal as Mia is subject to an out-of-body experience. Forman develops the characters in Mia’s life through flashbacks.  We come to understand her father’s wit through his snappy dialogue and his sacrifice for his family through friends’ reminiscing.  We see Mia’s mother’s passion through her causes and fierce loyalty and defense of friends and family members.  The development of Mia’s first relationship with eccentric, but sensitive Adam, is beautifully rendered, mixing first kisses with the harmony and complexity of a musical symphony.

This book isn’t about a teenager girl’s struggle to overcome a tough family life.  It isn’t about how parents just don’t understand.  In fact, if anything, Mia’s parents are a bit too understanding, making them seem – at times - too good to be true. This book is about how to say good-bye to that perfect family.  To stay with what is known and loved or venture out into the unknown and certain pain.

Overall, it is haunting, horrific, hopeful, romantic, and thought-provoking.  Read it and ask yourself:  What would you do?

According to Gayle Forman's blog, there will be a movie based on the book and they are in the process of casting. 

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