Saturday, February 1, 2014
If I Stay by Gayle Forman
If you like: out of body experiences * looking back * the cello
If I Stay is the story of Mia, a teen who is involved in a deadly car accident with her family and must decide to stay and deal with the physical and mental pain, or to go and leave everything behind. Her life does not flash before her eyes; instead, she reflects on a series of important moments carefully and thoughtfully. She is also aware of what is going on around her body, and allows that to influence her decision. Her disconnection from her physical form is both beneficial and harmful. She cannot feel the pain she is going through, but the longing to connect with her loved ones also influences her decision.
If I Stay is a collection of moments and memories that come together to make up the life of Mia. Each interaction in her post-accident life reminds her of her the past. Though this could easily be heartbreaking, the warm love and joy she re-experiences is tactile and full. Though her life holds much promise, and at seventeen is no where near its rightful end, her recollections reassure the reader that she has had vast experiences. A child of rare parents, she was allowed to freely explore her passions and was supported in her quest for greatness. The bond between her family is strong, and her parent’s palpable desire for her to succeed at whatever fills her heart is endearing. Her friendship with Kim and love with Adam also illustrate the fullness of her life. Not everyone gets to have a best friend who pushes them to be everything they can without jealousy or competition. Experiencing the kind of love that has immense depth at such a young age is rare. Mia and Adam may not have had a journey that is completely smooth, but their respect for each other’s talents and easy rapport make it difficult to imagine Mia giving up a chance for more time together.
Though the book is couched in the decision whether to stay or not, it is never revealed that Mia actually has a choice to make. Though she hovers on the rift between life and death, there is no guide or outside force pushing her to decide. Throughout her painful experience there are many omens that feel like they could be the turning point in her future. Each time she lingers, her strength and life-force wane and expand. It is unknown how long she can sustain between holding on and letting go. Things that might make her hold tighter sometimes seem to encourage her to let go. At other times, she grips onto her continued existence with surprising force. In the end, when she has taken stock of her life before and what her life will be after, it seems as if she never really had a choice to make at all. Has her ethereal state been nothing but a delusion of a mind pushed to limits of pain and circumstances? So much is unknown about comas, and what really happens to the brain in that state. Perhaps her wandering mind is a coping mechanism to separate herself from the pain of her mangled physical form. Together with the pain, she might not be able to take in the love from all of those who visit her. Separated from her self, she is able to reflect on and understand all of the dramatic gestures each person who comes to see her makes. She is able to strengthen her resolve by separating herself and use the energy to weave a protective armor around her spirit. As outsiders, we each hope that being by the bedside of a loved one can give them the extra support they need to fight; this is just what Forman intends. We may not know that we can change the fate of those we love, but just believing there is a chance we might is enough to carry us all through.
If you don’t know how you find the strength to fight, read If I Stay.
Forman, Gayle. If I Stay. Penguin Group, 2009. Kindle Edition.