11 July 2009

Review: IF I STAY by Gayle Foreman ***

"'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.
Everybody has to make choices. Some might break you.
For seventeen-year-old Mia, surrounded by a wonderful family, friends and a gorgeous boyfriend decisions might seem tough, but they're all about a future full of music and love, a future that's brimming with hope. But life can change in an instant. A cold February morning ... a snowy road ... and suddenly all of Mia's choices are gone. Except one. As alone as she'll ever be, Mia must make the most difficult choice of all. Gripping, heartrending and ultimately life-affirming, "If I Stay" will make you appreciate all that you have, all that you've lost - and all that might be. "


Firstly, this book had so much potential, but in my opinion it just failed to deliver. The opening was very promising and gripping - first there's this lovely picture of family idyll and then BANG everyone's worst nightmare. I found the descriptions of that scene quite haunting and horrifying (one word: asparagus) and I don't think I'll be able to forget them soon as the whole situation was so tragic. But I'm afraid that after that the book just didn't develop in the way that I'd expect it too under those kind of serious circumstances.

I'll admit the story is original as far as Mia's character goes, but other than that I found it quite average and cliche at times. There's so much you could do with a powerful story like this, which essentially broke my heart, but the novel itself almost left me indifferent. Personally, I found the present days scenes rather gripping (most of the time), but I found the retrospective quite boring. Sure, certain scenes were emotional and important, but I felt that most of them hardly contributed to Mia's final decision, I just didn't see the connection.

I guess that the book was just too short to convey the message it aimed to. I mean, it's almost a novella at 207 pages with a large font and double spacing. I'm afraid that neither the writing (which is quite average) nor the plot (especially the retrospective scenes) failed to make Mia's decision clear and understandable. Personally, I've no idea really why made the choice she did (except for the cliches that were mentioned) and even when I thought the story ended far too soon and on a very light-hearted note, as in everything will be alright, whereas I think the future that lies ahead would realistically be very difficult. I thought the author was just taking the soft option and ending things before they became too much to handle.

All things considered, I completely agree with this reviewer (clearly, we are in the minority as everyone else seems to love the book): the narration seriously lacked emotion. Mia has just suffered an incredible loss and yet I can hardly see her being bothered by that. It's like she accepts it almost immediately, which to me seems quite not only implausible but also unnatural. She barely thought about what *actually happend* (a horrible tragedy) as I would expect her too and instead the story was full of things that didn't really seem to matter at the time, and that rather bothered me.

Ultimately, I don't agree with Mia's decision, I mean I don't think I'd choose that same option myself seeing what she was faced with, and I felt the reasons she implied were not powerful enough. Perhaps my problem is that I see things far too realistically and tend to ignore the message, but even if that's the case, I'm afraid this book wasn't good enough to make me not only see, but also understand the main message. Sadly, this was a disappointment and the rating below is quite generous due to the originality and promising opening, but other than that I was left unimpressed.

overall rating: 3/5
plot: 3/5 | writing: 3/5 | characters: 3/5 | cover: 4/5

ps: Found another review I rather agree with, it's by Meghan McCarthy and it was posted in the comments on the Visual Bookshelf on Facebook under this book's profile (click). It says:
I understand what the author was trying to convey with her novel, but I'm sorry to say that it was very poorly executed. What probably would have been the most deeply affecting moment in the book was rendered only minutely shocking due to its being toward the beginning of the book before the reader could be truly invested enough in the story and characters to actually care.
The main character, instead of being endearing, complicated, or compelling, was mostly just frustrating.
SPOILER: The ending, which was supposed to be artistic, stopped the story before it was able to reach a real conclusion. It was as if someone had switched off the television right before the big finish of a movie and the audience is left wanting. The author builds the anticipation for this moment up for almost the entire (albeit short) book, only to leave her readers high and dry.


Dot said...

Oh no! I have to say that I loved this book, everyone's different though aren't they!

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