BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Gayle Forman
Dutton Books, 2009
Best ebook deal: Sony eBook Store
If I Stay teeters between young adult and literary fiction carefully, and ultimately borrows enough from both sides of the fence that genre distinction doesn’t much matter. At times the eloquent writing and mature linguistic choices elevate the book beyond what you’d expect from young adult, yet at other times words (and teen friendly music name-dropping) feel misplaced, carving into the credibility of the story, most notably through the characterization. Despite a few flaws this is a good book, albeit a depressing one.
Mia is comatose as she narrates the novel, recalling scenes from her seventeen years while observing from out-of-body experience the happenings of the hospital around her. Her entire immediate family perished in the accident that left her hospitalized, and as Mia examines her life, she is faced with the single choice: to live or die.
It’s sad, for sure, but like most tragedies it presents hopeful glimmers (which I will avoid revealing so as to not spoil the story). Forman breaks no new ground with her plot constructions, but the book is deftly crafted, and the pacing and temporal shifts are handled expertly. The writing is strong as well, often with nice nuggets of imagery or insight:
Then, in third grade, I’d wandered over to the cello in music class–it looked almost human to me. It looked like if you played it, it would tell you secrets, so I started playing.
At times, however, especially in dialogue, the writing gets a bit heavy-handed, with teenagers speaking with far too much wisdom and eloquence, kind of like a literary version of the fake-ness of “The Hills”:
Kim shook her head. “It doesn’t work that way. Look, I accept Adam because you love him. And I assume he accepts me because you love me. If it makes you feel any better, your love binds us. And that’s enough. Me and him don’t have to love each other.
Of course one could attribute that to the narratorial filter, but seeing as the narrator is seventeen, one could just as easily make a gagging motion and stick his finger in his throat.
This is a book saturated in sentimentality and sensibility, so readers who tend to dwell in that sort of fiction will enjoy this book immensely. It is also a good choice for parents of teenagers, and the more docile teen readers. However, it is well written and a quick read (I did cover to cover in an afternoon) so any fans of young adult fiction in search of a reprieve from vampires and wizards might also want to check it out.