April 22, 2011

Review: If I Stay/Where She Went by Gayle Forman

Jeannie’s Review of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and Where She Went

If I Stay

 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 heartachingly beautiful story about the power of family and friends, the choices we all make—and the ultimate choice Mia commands.

"I'll let you go. If you stay." Heartbreaking.

Not your average run-of-the-mill Young Adult read. In fact, I honestly don't understand why this book is even classified as Young Adult, given the subject matter. 17-year old Mia is stuck between life and death after a horrific accident and as she ponders whether to stay or go she slowly tells the revealing story of her family and of those closest to her. It's a flashback tale, a walk backwards through the short life of a young woman who has nothing but a bright future ahead of her until that fateful snowy day. 

You ache for the main character when you realize not only the extent of her physical injuries but the depth of her loss as well. And then there's the music. Music plays a huge part in this story and the way the author weaves snippets of songs and melodies into the story is not unlike the construction of a symphony. At times overly wrought with sadness and other times the lightness seems forced despite the somber subject, there is definite areas of improvement in the writing. But you let that slide because you want to know more about Mia's life before the circumstances that put her in the ICU.

I think the pieces of the story that make it slightly difficult to swallow, the perfect parents, the perfectly matched best friend, the amazing musician boyfriend who loves her without question, are a bit distracting, but then you remember that it IS a YA novel after all. 

Did I mention that the "f-word" is freely used in this book? Oddly refreshing. The ending leaves you wondering but not necessarily in a bad way. I understand that there is a sequel but if it ended here right now, I'd be ok with that.

If you haven’t read “If You Stay” to the very end, then I don’t recommend you read this review any further because the next few lines in the review for “Where She Went” spoils the dramatic conclusion of the first book. 

Ok, you’ve been warned.  

Where She Went 

 It's been three years since the devastating accident ... three years since Mia walked out of Adam's life forever.

Now living on opposite coasts, Mia is Julliard's rising star and Adam is LA tabloid fodder, thanks to his new rock star status and celebrity girlfriend. When Adam gets stuck in New York by himself, chance brings the couple together again, for one last night. As they explore the city that has become Mia's home, Adam and Mia revisit the past and open their hearts to the future - and each other.

Told from Adam's point of view in the spare, lyrical prose that defined If I Stay, Where She Went explores the devastation of grief, the promise of new hope, and the flame of rekindled romance.

Mia survives and three years later she’s playing cello at Carnegie Hall and her amazing musician boyfriend is a legit rockstar. But they are no longer together. What follows is Adam’s honest and painful account of how she left him and how he coped with her departure amidst his crazy rise to fame. By chance they run into each other in New York City and in one night of reminiscing Adam’s heartbreak comes to light along with Mia’s very personal reasons why she left Adam behind.

For anyone who’s gone through a traumatic heartbreak (lets face it, who hasn’t?) Where She Went will resonate with you. Sometimes unnervingly realistic, other times impossibly tragic, Adam’s side of the story is felt beyond the words written on the pages. But life goes on as it usually does and in the three years since Mia has left Adam has been operating on auto-pilot, going through the motions trying to make sense of his personal tragedy. In some ways, Mia did die in that hospital bed after the accident, Adam mourns her loss almost as forlornly as if she had passed away. Every shred of hope you have for them to end up together is further complicated by the fact you know Adam has to accept the reasons for Mia’s departure, whatever they may be. 

I found this second book to be such an engaging read, so much deeper and meatier than the first one even though not much really happens. The first book was a minute-to-minute account with flashbacks for backstory of Mia’s race for survival after a horrific accident. This book was also a minute by minute account of Mia and Adam’s reunion three years later with flashbacks to fill in the gaps of what happened in those lost years.

Remember what I said up there about the distraction of the “perfect musician boyfriend?” Well, I’m about to eat my words because Adam is far from perfect. Told from his perspective, you slowly start to see the fissures in his perfect persona, right from the first page. That image you have of him is shattered and what is rebuilt from it is a vulnerability I’ve rarely seen from a male protagonist in a Young Adult novel. It’s very refreshing. I love the two perspectives in each of the two books. They really do work in tandem with each other and to get the two sides of the whole story, both must be read. Excellent character studies and a wonderful, if sometimes heartbreaking two book series that is a must read for anyone who’s had their heart broken or have questioned a choice they’ve made that changed the course of their life.

I have a secret. The first part of this review was written over a year ago when I first read If I Stay. I gave that book a 4-star review in Goodreads. I gave Where She Went a perfect 5-star review. And I’m sure you know that in only two other instances in history has the sequel bested the original. Yes, I am talking about The Godfather Part II and The Empire Strikes Back

Gayle Forman is the talented storyteller and writer behind Adam and Mia’s stories and I am definitely looking forward to more from her. 

Happy Reading,


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