Just listen, Adam says with a voice that sounds like shrapnel.

 I open my eyes wide now.

I sit up as much as I can.
And I listen.

 Stay, he says.

Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind

Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it's the only one that matters.

If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

(No spoiler review.)

“I'm not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I'm not sure that I want to wake up.”

Following a devastating car accident which leaves her an orphan, Mia finds herself in suspended animation, caught between a choice of life without her family, or an uncertain afterlife beyond. In spirit form, Mia witnesses how her remaining loved ones deal with the loss of her family, and weighs the decision of leaving versus the decision of staying behind and living life as an orphan. Ultimately, the choice is up to her. But Mia has never been too fond of choices. And this one is literally a matter of life and death.

If ever there was a book which put the realism in magical realism, If I Stay is one. For all the unfamiliarity of Mia's situation (very few of us have been in a situation quite so dire), one does often feel like it does come to a decision in situations like these. Not in vain do we talk to comatose loved ones, or continue life support in hopes that someday, somehow, they will come back to us. In If I Stay, Mia is a spirit. But If I Stay is, for all intents and purposes, a contemporary novel.

The primary strength of this novel lies in characterization. It is not often that we come to think of every secondary or supporting character as complex, layered and nuanced - but If I Stay presents us with a whole cast of characters with intricate pasts, dreams of the future, with quirks and bothers and complex relationships. From the nurses who attend to Mia, to the boyfriend and the best friend, to the grandparents and extended family, to the deceased family itself - If I Stay has no shortage of character development. Some of the most poignant scenes for me were ones which showed subtle development (the grandparents holding hands as they sit by Mia's side, Adam and Kim forging a bond in their mutual loss, the nurses who choose compassion over rules). And while Mia herself isn't the most likable or the most decisive protagonist to ever grace the pages of literature - in the words of John Green, who ever said protagonist need to be easy to like? And let us all remember another protagonist whose indecisiveness before a difficult choice made for one of the most analyzed traits in English literature...

To decide or not to decide... I can't decide.

(Also Sophie, but that's a different beast altogether, so I'm leaving her out of it.)

And though If I Stay is primarily character-driven and jumps around in the timeline a fair amount, when it comes down to the actual story, I found it to be a compelling one. There seem to be two kinds of people who read this book: those who think the choice to live or die is self-evident and not much of a choice at all - thereby finding the story uninteresting - and those morbid folk who see the appeal of both sides - thereby finding the ultimate choice well worth the wait. I'm with the morbid folk. I was hooked from the get-go and eager to see what Mia chooses - especially as I wasn't so sure what I wanted her to choose myself (Hamlet and I, we go way back).

Bearing that in mind, however, this is the type of story where I didn't feel Gayle Forman's signature open ending really did it any favors. When the whole story is centered around a decision - right down to the actual title of the book - and then the decision is left open to the interpretation, it feels like somewhat of a cop-out. It's good, perhaps, that I read this so late compared to most people. Because if ever there was a story which I felt needed a sequel (or at least an additional chapter) - this is one. And now that one has been published... well, I guess I know what I'll be reading next.

If you're a Gayle Forman aficionado, made sure to leave a comment below and let us know what your favorite Gayle Forman book is. If you have yet to read any of her novels, hopefully this review will encourage you to give one of them a go. We're a bit late to the party ourselves, but we sure are making headway in the Gayle Forman department. We hope you join us! If you are morally opposed to blog comments, much as we love getting them, you may find us online and chat with us on various social media. We're mostly everywhere.