When seventeen-year-old Mia’s family is involved in a terrible car accident one snowy morning in Washington, she doesn’t feel the impact of the crash. One minute she’s driving along with her family, and the next she’s standing next to her body as emergency workers try to save her life. Stuck in an in-between state, Mia watches as the people who love her sit by her side in the hospital. As she flashes back over events in her life, she has to decide whether to let go or stay.
Gayle Forman’s beatiful, sparse novel about love and loss and growing up is at times poignant, funny, and heartbreaking. Forman is a strong writer whose technical skill is matched by her ability to create vivid, whole characters. This is not a book about death so much as it is a book about celebrating life.
Forman is at her best when writing the tender, funny scenes between Mia and her family. Although they are not a perfect family by any means, it is clear that they love and respect one another. This is a family that genuinely enjoys the company of each other, and they have had a lot of happy times together. Each character was well-developed and had a chance to become real to me as a reader, a rare but welcome experience.
This is a book that should be read slowly and savored. Although it’s not long, Forman’s writing is deliberate and focused, and each memory that Mia relates to the reader is important in shaping who she–and the people around her–are. Rushing through it won’t do a reader any good, because much of the meaning will be lost. This is an ultimately uplifting book that will leave readers feeling emotional.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman: Dutton Juvenile, 2009. Library copy.