Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

If I StayWhen I was a kid, during those quiet, contemplative moments reserved for homework, I would often let my mind wander. I was never very good at maths or science, but I was an A-level procrastinator. On several occasions I wondered what life might be like if:

a) I suddenly ceased to exist
b) I never existed at all

These were never depressive thoughts; I never pondered the futility of life, or questioned the reason for my existence. These were very base-level scenarios I concocted; alternate realities I imagined and bared witness to. In some, I passed away from a long illness and imagined what people might say on my deathbed (morose, I know); in other situations, I died heroically, and my tombstone would be emblazoned with the ‘Superman’ insignia.

Looking back, it’s a fascinating insight into my mentality at the time. I was always a very reserved, introverted person: these scenarios were ways to boost my ego, at least in my own mind; how would a lack of me alter the histories of the people in my life? Or would it at all? Had I made that little of an impression, my non-existence would be like water off a ducks back?

In Gayle Forman’s novel IF I STAY, Mia’s world is shattered in an instant, leaving her in a transitory ethereal state, bearing witness to events around her as her friends and family cope with the devastating loss. As they surround her hospital bed, Mia watches and listens, struggling to decide whether she should leave that world of pain behind. If she wakes, life will never be the same; is that truly a life she wants to return to?

IF I STAY is a short, achingly emotional story; equal parts love story and tragedy. At its heart, it is about family, and its importance in our lives; how we struggle with the burden of their expectations, but cherish those moments when we reach, and better them. How that familial bond is unbreakable; no matter how divisive our personalities are, no matter how much of an outcast we might feel like, we are united. This is a novel that reminds us how important we are to each other, and how we should take every moment we can to emphasise that.
Mia’s choice is a heart-breaking one, and we come to understand, and accept, her decision through multiple flashbacks, expounding on the various relationships in her life. These relationships feel genuine, which makes the journey to Mia’s ultimate decision all the more affecting.

IF I STAY is poignant and touching; a novel that dredged long-suppressed memories from my youth, and reminded me how much we all have to live for, no matter how much we lose, or how painful our individual journeys can be. Forman’s prose isn’t as heavy-handed as that; she doesn’t preach to the reader, and there is every chance I am reading too much into it. But that’s why we read stories, and that’s why fiction plays such a vital role in our lives; every readers experience is different and equally true. I’m just sorry I didn’t read the novel years ago.

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