Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Posted March 10, 2013 by Debby in Book Reviews

Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle FormanIf I Stay by Gayle Forman
Series: If I Stay #1
Published by Dutton Juvenile on April 2nd, 2009
Genres: Contemporary, Romance, Young Adult
Pages: 201
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased

In a single moment, everything changes. Seventeen-year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall riding along the snow-wet Oregon road with her family. Then, in a blink, she finds herself watching as her own damaged body is taken from the wreck…

A sophisticated, layered, and heart-achingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make, and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

2 Stars

I blame the hype machine. Part of me wants to be really cynical right now and scream, “Keep your opinions to yourselves people!” But in truth, I think this is more of a case of “It’s not you, it’s me.” Don’t get me wrong, this is a good book, for sure. But it never made me gasp, cry, or any one of a million emotions seemingly everyone had promised me I’d have.

If I Stay is a very original and daring story. It takes a concept that just hasn’t been done before, really, and does it really well. The decision Mia faces is dramatic, thought provoking, heartfelt, albeit at times depressing. A lot of people, fascinated with near-death experiences and life/death decisions, will love this book. Sadly, it’s time for me to come to terms with the fact that I’m not really one of those people.

I think my personal beliefs got in the way of this one. I’m not a big believer of out-of-body experiences. I think I’m just too skeptical for that. And while I know this is a book, and it doesn’t have to be true (I read enough fantasy as it is), it didn’t convince me. I think I had trouble not only with the concept, but also with Mia’s arguments against “staying”. I didn’t feel they were strong enough to justify her consideration of that option for most of the novel.

I just couldn’t connect to Mia. I think this is partly because we’re thrown right into the accident. We barely get to see any of Mia, her personality and her family, before it happens, and that makes it difficult for me to find a connection to her while I’m simultaneously trying to figure out what is happening. But even afterwards, her memories make her seem really bland and boring. I suppose that was intended to show that this can happen to a regular every-day girl, but if I’m reading a book I still want to be wowed and charmed by the main character. And the same happened with her romance with Adam. It felt rather lukewarm.

The time jumps didn’t work for me. I liked how each visitor or occurence in the hospital triggers a memory of Mia’s past, and some of them definitely worked, but some didn’t. Some felt really out of place, and it didn’t help that the memories weren’t in chronological order either. That really made it especially hard to get swept up into the relationship between Adam and Mia.

Some parts of the writing just made me raise an eyebrow. Don’t get me wrong, Gayle is definitely a great writer. Her talent pretty much floats off the page. But I could sort of tell this was her debut. Passages like Adam and Mia “playing each other” like they were instruments? What was that supposed to be? I mean, I am a music freak and a fan of romance but that just seemed really awkward to me. And Mia describes one of the nurses as having “blue-black skin”. Ummm… wut.

The last 5-10 pages were better than the rest of the novel combined. I wish it all had that kind of spark. The rest of the novel was this big, slow build up to that moment, but while you’re reading, it’s difficult to tell that. I kept waiting to be wowed and it just took forever to (sort of) get there. While I get the idea of building to a climax, usually there’s still some highs and lows on that journey to the climax, and I guess I just missed that. This book may have been too subtle for my liking.

Summing Up:

This heartfelt journey was a narrow miss for me. I think my opinion of this book is so lukewarm because I spent most of the novel waiting for the other shoe to drop. Which means I need to move on to the sequel right away, which I was planning on doing anyway. I think the consequences of Mia’s decision will ultimately touch my heart more than the process of reaching that decision. So we’ll see if Where She Went can sway me.

I can only hope this review doesn’t change your opinions of me, and I’ll be hiding in my cave, terrified of your comments, for the next couple days. (JK, please, explain to me what everyone’s fascination with this book is. Am I missing something? Besides, you know, a heart.)

In Three Words:

Recommended To:

People interested in the concept of out-of-body experiences and life/death decisions.

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34 responses to “Book Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

  1. I haven’t read this book but I worry the hype surrounding it has built up my expectations too much!

    Also looking forward to hear your opinions on where she went.

    • Yeah, the hype around this one… man it was tremendous and I guess that makes it an even bigger let down for me. πŸ™ I hope you still like it and I’m just the odd one out here!

      Thank you πŸ™‚

  2. Interesting! But I can see where you are coming from with the home outer body experience thing. And what you mention about not connecting with Mia is unfortunate. I’m also not a big fan of being thrown into stories without background. :/ Hopefully, you’ll enjoy Where She Went more! I’ll more than likely get to this one… eventually!

    • The more I think about it, the more I kind of realize that contemporary books about death just aren’t my thing… The same thing happened to me with The Lovely Bones: while everyone else loved it, I thought it was just okay. This may have been a wrong pick for me. But I’m still curious about Where She Went. Some of my blogging friends told me that one is way more amazing than If I Stay.

      I’ll be curious to know what you think when you get around to it! πŸ™‚

  3. Oh god. The playing each other like instruments scene was SO WEIRD. I’m sure lots of people thought it was romantic and cute, but…nope nope nope. Weird as hell for me. I just, bleck. Kind of squicky, not going to lie.

    I didn’t connect much with Mia eitherβ€”or really with any of the characters. Because she was mostly sitting around watching things happen, it was hard to feel for her, since (in my opinion) she didn’t seem to be too bothered by the whole life-or-death situation or too conflicted about staying or otherwise. *shrugs*

    Fantastic review!!

    • I KNOW RIGHT? It was so… awkwardddddd. That whole scene just kind of had me squirming like, “Oh… that’s weird…”

      I’m so glad I’m not the only one. Yeah, now I think about it, I guess I didn’t like her so much because she was sitting and watching all the events. Too passive, I suppose, for me. And I agree, she was so calm about the whole thing… I guess that annoyed me.

      Thank you!! Can’t wait to read yours πŸ™‚

  4. As much as I loved this book, I agree about the playing each other like instruments as well. That was actually the one scene in the book I didn’t like at all. I know both Mia and Adam are musicians and that’s how they relate to the world, but it was still a bit hard.

    I think the reason I loved this book/got so emotional was because I saw so much of myself in Mia. If she had been a different person, I probably wouldn’t have made this a 5 star book, but Mia and I are so similar. Both kind of quiet, hard-working, but get along well with our families, and have an interest in something that made us kind of “outside” the interest of most kids. For Mia it was music, for me it was books and writing, even at a young ago, and I just really felt like I *got* Mia. She’s wasn’t a spectacular or over-the-top character at all, very average, but I just felt like we were too similar.

    I didn’t really like the out-of-body experience thing as much–that’s not really my thing–I just ignored it for this story.

    • Haha, I’m glad I’m not the only one. I seriously had to stop at that passage and think like, “Is this for real? What the…” I don’t think musicians would think that was amazing either, it just felt awkwarddddd.

      Okay, I guess I understand that. I think a lot of people would relate to Mia in that way as well and that would make the novel a lot more touching. Truth is, I’m the quiet, hard-working outsider type as well but still I didn’t connect to her… I wonder why… I really wish I’d liked her more.

      Thanks for your insight πŸ™‚

  5. It’s been a few years since I read this one, but I remember being absolutely gutted over it. I’d be interested in seeing if a re-read sparks those same emotions, or if it was a result of my younger age/state of mind at the time. I think this is the first negative-ish review I’ve seen for If I Stay, so it’s nice to see the other side of the coin for a change!

    • Oh! Please do! I’d love to see more reviews of this – it seems like most people read it before their reviewing days. Maybe it does appeal to a younger age, hmm.

  6. hahahaha I love that you mention that instrumental foreplay. That killed me. I mean, WHAAAAAT?

    I can see why you feel the way you too. I was able to make a lot of connections with Mia and her family so I think that obviously played a huge role in why I was affected by it the way that I was. I still think you are going to fall in love with Where She Went.

    • hahaha, no worries. I’m so glad I’m not the only one who thought the instrumental foreplay was WEIRD. Just. What.

      Yeah, from the comments I can assume this book just works when you feel a connection to the characters, but I just don’t get why that wasn’t present for me. We’ll see how Where She Went goes πŸ™‚

  7. It’s always a shame when a hyped book doesn’t work out for you. “Playing each other” has a very strange and creepy sound to it. I haven’t read this book, but I did like the sound of it. Now I’m not so sure.. The disconnection from Mia make me hesitant to pick it up.


    • lawl, when you get to that part, now you’re just going to laugh uncomfortably xD I wouldn’t listen to my review too much because apparently I’m really the odd one out here. Enough commenters have noted that they did feel a strong connection to the characters and that it made the story that much better. I just don’t know why it didn’t work for me. *shrug*

  8. Too bad you didn’t enjoy this book. I read this a while ago and I predictably loved it, but from a more skeptical eye, I’m sure I’d find all the things you mentioned wrong and strange. Especially the ‘playing instruments’ scene πŸ˜› I really liked your review, despite the fact that I really enjoyed it myself. It’s nice to learn different opinions about the same book πŸ™‚

    • Yeah, I think this is the kind of book that when you feel deeply connected to the characters and the story you’re less critical. Because I didn’t feel that way, the book was just a bit awkward. Hahaha, I’m glad that apparently everyone else also noted the instrumental foreplay as being weird xD

      Thank you! πŸ™‚

  9. Where She Went has the power to sway you. And make you SWOON over ADAM. He narrates and its literally 34982034892 times better. I’d bet on it.

    • I’m past a third into Where She Went and it is better. Adam’s definitely more interesting than Mia. But well… we’ll see!

  10. Hahaha, I gotta agree with you. The musical foreplay thing was SUPER AWKWARD. And actually, I really didn’t care for this one either. I read Where She Went, and it was totally better, but I just wasn’t feeling this one. Mia is a really boring and bland character, just like you said! I just…read Where She Went. So much better! Fab review, Debby! (:

    Megan@The Book Babe

    • So glad to here I’m not alone in this one! I’m liking Where She Went better so far, but I’m still not completely blown away. We’ll see though! Thank you πŸ™‚

  11. I can’t even remember that scene, so I probably blocked it from my mind! Haha.

    Anywho, I am one of those people who praise this book. I think it’s simply fantastic, but of course, understand that it is definitely not how everyone is going to feel. I think what made me really connect with Mia was actually putting myself in her place. I have great parents and a younger brother that I adore/adores me. I have a fantastic boyfriend and one real best friend. My grandparents are the best and really, even though Mia wasn’t the most intricate character, I felt like I was her when I was reading this. Every person that walked in and talked to her, I envisioned them talking to me.

    My favorite scenes were the things the other people would say to her when she was just lying there, and it is what I most remember in the book. Like when Adam begs her to stay, or when her grandfather tells her it’s okay if she wants to go. I read this book years ago and just typing that up makes me want to tear up cause I remember their words like they were said to me.

    But like I said, I totally get how this book is not for everyone. Thanks for sharing your honest feelings, and don’t go hide! Your heart is just not all sappy and silly like mine πŸ™‚

    • Haha, I wish I could block it out, but it was wayyy too awkward for this.

      Thank you so much for your input! I can totally imagine that in your situation the story would much more strike a chord. Admittedly, I didn’t have the best family situation growing up, so I think I may have it standard in my head that “duh, you would choose to stay” because the loss wouldn’t seem as huge to me as it would be to Mia. I think I might just be the wrong person for this book.

  12. So bummed to hear this one wasn’t for you :/ I vaguely remember reading this some time ago and will admit that that instrument scene was kind of weird for me as well xD I didn’t understand half of it pretty much. Even though I thought this book was an emotional roller coaster I can defiantly see why others wouldn’t enjoy it. However, I will say that the sequel, Where She Went, is a gazillion times better. This kind of makes me want to re-read the book though. Great review! πŸ˜€

    • Thank you! It’d be awesome if you re-read. It seems most people read this when they were a bit younger. I wonder if it changes with age. Where She Went is better so far, but I’m still not as invested in this series as most people.

  13. Yes, I totally agree! I only read the first chapter of If I Stay a year ago and the reason I put it down the first place was because I couldn’t connect with Mia. She was so emotionless, especially when she was talking about the events that happened right before the car crash. I just thought, um, I don’t think I can deal with reading the rest of this.
    Ohhh, I’m also reading Just One Day right now and I think I saw a mention of blue-black skin (or was it blue skin?) in that book too! Got to double check.
    Hopefully you’ll enjoy the sequel of If I Stay Debby! (:

  14. I loved this book so it’s sad to hear it didnt meet your expectations but I agree with the points you made, may need to re-read it now XD
    Where She Went in my opinion was much better, Adam is character that pulled my heartstrings a lot πŸ™‚

    • Haha, interesting to hear. I think this is one of those books where, when you’re swept up in the story and the characters, you don’t notice the flaws. But since I wasn’t, they were a lot more apparent to me. I’d be interested to know what you think if you reread it πŸ™‚

      Where She Went was like.. an inch better? I dunno, this series just wasn’t for me. Adam was better than Mia for sure though.