If I Stay
by Gayle Forman
Everything about adolescence feels intense. A boyfriend or girlfriend breaks up with us, we feel like dying. A friend turns his or her back on us, we want to melt into the woodwork. We don’t make the basketball team, get the lead in the play, qualify for the AP English class, home-schooling looks very attractive.
But this book puts everything into perspective with an all-too-real life-or-death choice. In the very first chapter, 17-year-old Mia and her family suffer a tragic car accident one wintry Oregon morning. At the time of the crash, Mia had her eyes closed in the back seat, taking in the first notes of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 3, the piece she’d planned to practice if the snow day had not separated her from her cello at school. By page 12, Mia knows that her parents died on impact, and as she searches frantically for her 8-year-old brother, Teddy, she finds instead her own body: “Am I dead?” she wonders. To the author’s credit, nothing about this novel feels melodramatic. Instead, Mia tries to come to grips with the realities she faces. She watches herself being medovacced to Portland, where she had planned to hear her boyfriend, Adam, perform with his rock band, which is on a fast track to success. As Mia wonders how Adam will get word of her accident, she thinks about their first date—to hear Yo-Yo Ma play—and how Adam confided that what first attracted him to her was her passion for the cello (“I’m obsessed with music and even I don’t get transported like you do,” he tells her). In the space of the 24 hours over which the novel takes place, Forman skillfully moves between Mia’s out-of-body experience and related snippets of memory. Each memory contributes to the pro or con case Mia makes about whether to join her parents or whether her love of music, and her love for Adam and for her grandparents will give her enough strength to fight for her life. Because of the life or death issues, and the mature relationship between Mia and Adam, this book is recommended for teens aged 14-up. This thought-provoking novel asks the most searching human questions: What makes life worth living? Family? Friends? Music? Love? This book will not fail to get your teen thinking about the answers.