Confession: I read this book in one big four-hour chunk. I got home from work one day, sat down to start reading, and looked up four hours later with tears in my eyes and a cramp in my thigh from where I’d hardly moved from the moment I sat down to the moment I closed the cover.
If I Stay is about Mia, a teenager with everything ahead of her. Through the course of the novel we learn about her wonderful, average life – playing cello, drying dishes with her mum, mucking about with her brother, falling in love with her boyfriend. Hers is a life full of people who love her and the sorts of opportunities that come to teenagers who work really hard at the thing they love.
The difference, of course, is that this book isn’t about any of that. It’s not about her applying to Julliard or falling in love – it’s about whether all that is worth anything if she doesn’t have her family around her.
If I Stay is made up of memories and moments, a literal life-flashing-before-my-eyes moment. Mia’s in a coma, and her family weren’t as lucky as she was. I guess the point of the book is to make you ask the question – if you were in a car accident with almost everyone you loved, and you were the only one to make it out (barely) alive – and if you were able to make the choice between living or dying – what would you do?
Mia’s injuries are fairly serious, but she doesn’t have the training or knowledge to understand what the nurses and doctors are saying when they talk about hemorrhaging and swelling and broken bones. She has no idea what her prognosis would even be if she were to wake up. So she assesses her options based on what she does know. The family who brought her up to be strong and loving. The boyfriend, the first love, who sits by her bedside and begs her not to go. The collection of friends waiting anxiously in the waiting room, praying for her recovery.
Foreman’s writing clips along, drawing you deep into Mia’s world and barely letting go between chapters. It’s a fairly easy read, in the way that realist YA fiction usually is, but that doesn’t in any way take away from the power of the premise – what is it, after all, that makes life worth it?
In Mia’s case, it’s love and potential. I’m inclined to think that that’s true of most of us. It’s not the things that we strive for that make our lives exciting – it’s the opportunity to strive, the endless perhaps hovering over the horizon.