Deep down, I know this book is emotionally manipulative and cliche-ridden, but I decided upon finishing it that I don’t care. This book moved me because I think it tried to appeal to my inner teenager — you know, the girl who loved sad, doomed things because of its terrible but inherent nature (oh heck, I still love that stuff). However, if one can overlook the convenient magical realism or the Near Death Clairvoyance trope, then perhaps you may see that, for all its flaws, If I Stay by Gayle Forman is still beautifully written and, at times, moving.
Seventeen year old Mia has a bright future ahead of her; she’s a talented cello player with promise, has a fun-loving, rebellious but close family and a boyfriend who is her opposite but loves music as fiercely as she does. Faced with the decision to leave her family and friends to pursue her music, one day after a catastrophic car accident, Mia is left with only one decision: does she stay?
The thing about this book was that it managed to elicit an array of feelings. What If I Stay succeeds in is that it’s an exploration of life and death, and, with the former, the idea of possibilities and what if’s. Books about life and death often come as a loaded gun; it is inevitable that we, readers who engage with these narratives, use our personal human experiences as a lens that shape our perceptions and how we make sense of things. In saying this, it is because of this that reviewing If I Stay objectively is a difficult task; in a way, my innermost, child-like feelings have intertwined with the novel’s narrative and ideas, so in a weird way I have become a little defensive of the themes in this book.
Regardless, If I Stay was thought-provoking in an existential way. It made me reflect on the things that had happened in my life, and it reminded me of my moments of grief, of love lost, and feelings of what could have been (which is something that I tend to dwell on in my low moments). As Mia the protagonist reflects on the life that she has lived and weighs on her choice – to live and to stay, or to let go – I found myself reflecting on my own life. The end result was that If I Stay made me sad; not a bawl-my-eyes-out sort of sad, but in a melancholic, pensive sadness that made me think of the people I used to love (and in turn, used to love me).
If I Stay may be ‘overrated’, but I think it is widely-liked with good reason – it isn’t original in idea nor the best of its genre or theme, but it is its subtleties and meditation on life – which is actually kind of beautiful, even if it is a little simplistic and reductive of the complexity of human experience – that succeed in touching so many people. There are weaknesses in this story – namely the characters and its unashamed use of cliches – but If I Stay is poignant (in a nice, refreshing way), wonderful in its own way, and ultimately, full of different kinds of love and life that is worth thinking about.
Rating: 3.5/5 (2017 adjusted)
Book Name: If I Stay
Book Series: If I Stay #1
Author: Gayle Forman
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers