As the summer blockbusters roll out, the number of previews for upcoming movies seems to grow exponentially. While the preview for If I Stay didn’t make me want to see the film, it did make me curious about the book that served as the source material. Shorter than I expected, Gayle Forman’s If I Stay looks at our reactions to life’s unexpected tragedies and considers what we’re aware of and agency in altered states of consciousness, specifically her heroine’s comatose state.
Mia is a high school senior with a promising career as a cellist on the horizon as well as a less than traditional but very loving and supportive family, friends, and boyfriend. But when the weather clears on a snow day, the family decides to drive to visit friends and their car collides with an oncoming truck. Left in critical condition, Mia must decide whether or not to stay and fight for her shattered life.
Now, the novel has been out for several years and it’s status as the first book in a series gives the ending away, not that there were too many ways it could have ended to begin with. But the book isn’t about massive plot twists or surprises. It’s reflective more than anything. Small instances trigger Mia’s memories and send her spinning off on tangents that show everything she has lost in less than a day. But juxtaposed against everything that’s gone is everything that remains.
It was the perspective presented in the film trailer that drew me to the novel and it was pretty much what I expected. I liked the pacing with Mia’s reflections broken up with glimpses of what was happening to her in real time. The narrative itself is reminiscent of the approach that made The Lovely Bones stand out to me, years ago now. It was well handled but, as I mentioned earlier, it’s a little shorter than I expected it to be. Mia’s reminiscing can come across as idealized in an over-the-top way, but I think some of that is done intentionally. It’s part of the nature of memory that some of the details are glossed over. We’re able to laugh at ourselves or circumstances, including those that really aren’t as funny or happy as we might want them to be.
The novel ends in a frustrating spot that had me checking the library for the next book immediately. I’m hoping that the part of the story I was most interested in reading is included in the follow up or I will be sorely disappointed. If I Stay, on its own, doesn’t particularly stand out. It was not bad but I wanted there to be more. I also think that if there had been more, it would have only been filler stuff and wouldn’t have added to the novel as a whole. The way it ends is very deliberate and refuses to break from the established structure of the narrative, and I get that, but I hope it doesn’t skip the part of Mia’s journey I’m most eager to read.
I enjoyed the novel but I still don’t care much whether I ever get around to seeing the film adaptation. I may check out the soundtrack though. The way Forman writes about music, particularly classical music, is lovely (coming from someone who enjoys music but has zero musical capabilities). Plus, I have a soft spot for any music that prominently features the cello, and since that’s Mia’s instrument of choice, hopefully it will be included.