Review of Gayle Forman’s ‘If I Stay’

Gayle Forman’s If I Stay has been sitting on my bookshelf for the last two years and thanks to my packed University reading list, I’ve only just got around to reading it. I’d asked for it for Christmas a couple of years back after hearing good things about both the book and its corresponding film, and maybe if I’d have read it during all the hype, I might have enjoyed it more.

Sadly for me, this book was not worth the two year wait I had before getting a chance to read it. Maybe the high level of university reading I’ve been doing had destroyed my enjoyment of young adult fiction, though I doubt this considering I still well up every time I re-read passages from John Green’s Looking for Alaska.

The problem with this book for me was a pretty crucial one. I could not stand Mia. The seventeen year old girl who narrates the novel was, in my opinion, incredibly irritating. She sounded like one of those girls who tries too hard to be modest, the kind of girl I avoid at all costs. After having a long splurge where she goes on about how gorgeous and amazing and talented her boyfriend is, and how great her family is, and how talented she herself is with a cello, she then has a sudden moment where she has to justify herself. She goes from bragging about how great her life is to suddenly backtracking ‘oh but I don’t think I’m that good’, ‘oh I don’t know what my boyfriend sees in me’, ‘oh I feel so out of place sometimes in my family’, on and on and on throughout the whole novel. If anything she’d be less irritating if she didn’t try to sound so humble. At least then I’d feel like she was being honest with me.

My dislike for Mia caused problems the entire way through the novel. I didn’t care if she chose to stay or go, I didn’t care that she’d lost her family, I didn’t care whether she went to Julliard or stayed with her super-hot, super-cool, super-talented rock star boyfriend. I just didn’t give a damn. I think this largely came from the way the novel was written. That’s not to say that Forman is a bad writer, I don’t think that at all, but the structure of the novel made it very hard to care about any of the characters. We don’t really get to know any of them before disaster strikes, we get to know Mia and her family in retrospect during the 24 hours that follow their car crash, not only that but we see them through Mia’s irritating ‘They’re so great, they’re so perfect, oh but they do have flaws’ perspective. This means they never really seem like actual people. They seem like memories of people, and memories often appear distorted through nostalgia.

The only characters that seem at all real are those that visit the unconscious Mia in hospital. The ones we see in present time and not just through memory. Of course they are still accompanied by Mia’s annoying commentary, but because we see them in real time, they seem more real, more like people than those that Mia has lost, those we as readers are supposed to be mourning.

Overall, I think the story line of this book was pretty poor. It was a good idea, and a good theme to tackle, but it’s not done to the best it could have been. The characters are not particularly well rounded, they’re flat and lifeless (often in more ways than one) and for me, its characters that make a book.

For this reason I can’t say it left my itching to reach for the sequel.

 

Rating: Purely for the sheer lack of enjoyment I gained reading this I have to give it a 4/10.

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