If I Stay is about a young girl in a car wreck with her family and she has to decide if she’s going to live or die. She exists for a time in an out-of-body experience, watching her relatives at the hospital and her body, while having flashbacks about her family, best friend, and boyfriend. As someone who reads near death experiences all the time, I was kind of surprised by this. In most (but not all) accounts that I’ve read, the person doesn’t hover near her body while this kind of thing is going on. And, oddly enough, the place beyond, that the accounts describe, is so overpowering in its feelings of love and light that the survivors of such experiences sometimes long to be dead rather than alive afterwords. So, If I Stay was very different in its approach to the topic and I kind of liked it.

For my first year, I was a music major in college, just like Mia. Her agonizing anxiety over auditions and concerts reminded me very much of myself. Also, the parts where her dad (another musician) was trying to calm her down were very familiar: “But seriously, how do you get over the jitters?” (Mia asked.) Dad was still smiling but I could tell he had turned serious because he slowed down his speech. “You don’t. You just work through it. You just hang in there.” pg 27 Dad once said to me, before a college music audition, “Just let your fingers do it. You’ve practiced for hours. You know the song. Don’t overthink it.” Funny, I’d forgotten that particular moment…If I Stay brought it all back.

I liked Mia and Adam’s romance- it was very sweet. Here was the first time she brought him home to meet her parents: “…this little buzz was building inside me. 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.” pg 59 Awwww….

The way Mia’s parents described having her is the way that I feel about having a kid most of the time: “You were like an experiment,” Dad said. “Surprisingly successful. We thought it must be a fluke.” pg 85

One of my favorite parts, Adam is trying to sneak into the hospital to see Mia and he brings his punk rocker friends: “I lag behind, watching this procession of hipsters barrel through the lobby. The sheer noisiness of them, of their heavy boots, and loud voices, buzzed on by their sense of urgency, ricochets through the quiet hush of the hospital and breathes some life into the place. I remember watching a TV program once about old-age homes that brought in cats and dogs to cheer the elderly and dying patients. Maybe all hospitals should import groups of rabble-rousing punk rockers to kick-start the languishing patients’ hearts.” pg 141 Pretty good idea, really. A pack of nine year olds would do the trick too.

I liked that Forman made Mia’s parents real characters, giving them meaningful personalities, friends, and backstories, instead of just making them the backdrop for a sappy, teenage love story. In this passage, Mia’s dad is talking about his transition from rocker dude to teacher: Dad sighed. “It wasn’t hard to do. I’d played that part of my life out. It was time. I didn’t even think twice about it, in spite of what Gramps or Henry might think. Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you. Does that make any sense?”pg 192

Mia’s decision, to stay or not, isn’t just about her attachment to Adam and her friends, but also to her family, music, and life itself. That really became clear in this bit, when Mia was remembering a recent Labor Day party:“When it cooled off, Dad lit a campfire on the lawn, and we roasted marshmallows. Then the musical instruments appeared… Everyone was jamming together, singing songs… Teddy (Mia’s brother) was dancing around, the blond of his hair reflecting the golden flames. I remember watching it all and getting that tickling in my chest and thinking to myself: This is what happiness feels like.” pg 225

If you enjoyed If I Stay, you may want to read Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley (a young woman discovers that she is more than who she ever imagined herself to be and has to make a decision to embrace an entirely new life while protecting those she leaves behind) or Thirteen Reasons Whyby Jay Asher (a young adult commits suicide but leaves behind a series of tapes wherein she explains her heart-breaking decision).

I found the film, If I Stay, that was based on this book to be a very faithful retelling of the source material.  Prepare yourself with a box of kleenexes though- this one is a tear jerker.

Thanks for reading! – Heidi

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