Monday, 6 April 2015

Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Publisher: Speak
Pub Date: 01/01/09
Genre: YA Contemporary
Pages: 210
Rating: 3.5 

On a day that started like any other, Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, admiring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices.

 In an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the only decision she has left. It is the most important decision she'll ever make.

Simultaneously tragic and hopeful, this is a romantic, riveting, and ultimately uplifting story about memory, music, living, dying, loving.

This review could’ve been different. It didn’t have to be this way.

I was really enjoying If I Stay by Gayle Forman. The writing was exquisite, the characters unique, and I was driven close to tears at points. I was so engaged, compelled to wonder what would happen next and how the narrator’s dilemma would be resolved.

And then the author screwed me over.

Let me backtrack a bit.

So, teenage cellist Mia is on a snowy drive with her parents and little brother when a truck crashes into them. The parents die instantly, and she and her brother Teddy are taken to hospital in critical condition. Mia is in a coma, but her spirit/ghost/soul is aware and follows her body around, though she can’t interact with the world. I guess that’s comforting for those with friends in a coma.

The whole story takes place over a couple of days with a lot of flashbacks and introspection, so most of the action is Mia’s body having various operations and panic stations, and all the people she knows coming in to talk to her and ask her to come out of the coma. Mia’s spirit can wander wherever, so she sees her best friend Kim and boyfriend Adam planning ways to break into the ward and sees the outside world that way.

I really liked the flashbacks. With that short a timeframe, they were necessary to have a book-length work (more on that later). They mostly focus on her boyfriend, her family and music (specifically the cello and her growing proficiency at it as she picks it up as a kid, then goes to classical music summer camps – while Kim is at Jewish camp – and finally auditions for Juilliard). Hang on, I just realised that if she survives, she might be so mangled she’ll be unable to go to Juilliard. That’s sad.

She has a really good relationship with her parents (maybe a bit unrealistic, but nice to read). Her parents both used to be rockers, but her mother is now a housewife and her father an English teacher. We see another iteration of Ditzy Father Syndrome – he didn’t learn to drive until the second child (Teddy). It is a charming family, though.

Anyway, soon enough after the accident, she realises that this spirit of hers has the power to decide whether or not she stays. She weighs up the options – live with her friends but as an orphan, or die with her family? There’s a very touching moment nearish the end where Kim whispers to her that all her friends and non-immediate relatives are waiting downstairs and that “You still have a family.” We see her being swayed different ways by hearing different people talking, and this really got me thinking and seriously trying to figure out what she should do given the available – well, not evidence, but information. Sort of like an emotional detective story.

Here’s where the screwing over comes in. When I’m really enjoying a book but I’m nearing a bit where I’m afraid the author might choose to end it, I take a quick look to see how many pages are left. I was reassured here because there was around a fifth of the book left … and then I turned the page and it said THE END.

You know what was behind that page? Acknowledgements! And background information like the reasoning behind music choices, which I was too insulted to read! For like forty pages! I’d expect to see that sort of thing in fanfiction, not in a published novel.

What had just happened was what might happen 60% of the way through a novel, going by classic techniques or whatever. A sign of hope that doesn’t give away the ending.

It’s absolutely inappropriate for an actual ending!

The book is a measly 210 pages, and the worst part is that the story isn’t even remotely finished. Even as a reader, I could say (broadly) what should happen next.

Oh, and surprise surprise – there’s a sequel. A sequel called Where She Went. Okay, not only is that a massive spoiler, it’s totally inaccurate and doesn’t follow the first book, which is – I’m pretty sure – the entire point of a sequel.
Then again, it’d be difficult to follow the total non-ending of that book.

Look, it might not be the author’s fault. The writing was beautiful, and it does seem like something a publisher might choose to do for commercial purposes (especially going by the movie). But I can’t think of anything that could’ve happened in the book that would have pissed me off more.

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