Friday, November 19, 2010

YA Book Review: If I Stay

A young, talented cellist, Mia, is in a state between life and death.  The novel If I Stay brings us into her experience as her soul, independent from her bandaged, bloodied body,  watches family and friends visit her in the hospital.  Are they coming to pay their last respects, or are they coming to see her open her eyes?

Pacing the hospital floors, sitting in a chair near her body, her spirit recounts seminal moments in her life while, at the same time, also learns most of those closest to her have passed on to the afterlife.  They did not stay.

Realizing she will be bereft of family if she stays, Mia leans heavily towards not staying: accepting death and joining her love ones.  She resolves the situation within herself and chooses.  Yet, she doesn't know how to do it.  How to let go, or even how to dig her heels in and stay for that matter.  She can't walk through walls or float.  No one can see or hear her.  She is stuck and watches and listens and thinks and remembers.

Two powerful moments stand out.  Her grandfather, her father's dad, who has just lost his son, daughter-in-law, and grandson, weeps onto her and whispers into her ear that it is ok if she wants to go.  He understands.  He doesn't like it, but he understands.

Second, Mia's love, Adam, also a musician, finally overcomes a series of obstacles and reaches her side.  He too whispers a message in her ear, "I'll let you go.  If you stay."  Meaning, he won't resist her accepting the scholarship to Julliard or anything else life presents her with. 

The recurring theme that people on the verge of death can hear their loves one speak to them, and need it, is interesting.  All of the nurses in the story seem to know and believe that Mia can hear, and she can also choose.  She can choose if she goes or if she stays.  It conjures up memories of our own family members who have passed; it made me pause and wonder if they really could truly hear and feel it.

Set to come out as a film starring Dakota Fanning, I hope young adults read the book.  It rings true to the young adults I know; for as dramatic as the plot is, it isn't overdone.  I liked the story more than finding myself connected to Mia or her boyfriend Adam.  The book reminds why I love story telling in its many forms and formats.

The author Gayle Forman writes best when she is writing about the disconnect which occurs within families or friendships.  There are several great moments of rough patches withing friendships or family relationships, and these ring so true.  How they start, and how they resolve themselves.

I enjoyed the moment between Mia and her grandfather when she calls him out on the fact the he never goes to any of her dad's shows (also a musician):
I've got bad ears.  From the war.  The noise hurts...I'll admit, I don't much care for all that electric guitar.  Not my cup of tea.  But I still admired the music.  The words, especially.  When he was about your age, your father used to come up with these great stories...You ever listen carefully to the things he says?
To which Mia explains to us:
I shook my head, suddenly ashamed.  I hadn't ever realized that Dad wrote lyrics...But I had seen him sit at the kitchen table with a guitar and a notepad a hundred times.  I'd just never put it together.
To borrow from grandpa, I admire the music [of the story], but it is the power of the spoken word between people, what people say to one another here, which makes this book special.

Encourage a young adult to pick it up.

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