Girl's spirit watches over as she faces life-or-death issue

John Millen
John Millen |

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If I Stay

By Gayle Forman

Published by Doubleday

ISBN 978 0 385 61620 1

This is another recent title to begin with a teenage girl involved in a terrible car crash. Neal Shusterman's Everlost took a horrendous car accident as the springboard to an imaginative roller-coaster ride that quickly left the horror of the opening chapter behind and moved into fantasy adventure land.

But Gayle Forman's If I Stay is a very different kettle of fish. Mia, 17, is surrounded by a loving family and everything that goes with it. One day, school is cancelled because of snowy weather and Mia, her younger brother and teacher father have an unexpected day's holiday ahead of them.

Mum takes the day off work and the family decides to spend the day together. The road near their house is reasonably free of snow and ice, so the four of them get into the car and set off to visit friends. Then something appalling happens.

The driver of an oncoming truck loses control on the icy road and crashes into them. Mia's parents are killed instantly and her badly injured brother is thrown from the car. Mia survives the accident and rescue services manage to get her into hospital, her life hanging in the balance.

Mia watches, standing over her own body as doctors fight to save her life. She has become an invisible observer of the aftermath of the crash and her own life-or-death struggle. From here, If I Stay could easily have swung into supernatural mode, but this does not happen. Forman has a much more captivating story in mind.

For the rest of the novel, Mia continues her role as a spirit watcher and narrates the next 24 hours of her battle as the medical team, her close friends, her boyfriend and family all deal with the consequences of the car crash. Mixed in with the real-time happenings in the hospital, Mia travels over a patch-work of memories of family and friendship that made her the person she is.

She hears a nurse tell her grandparents that whether she lives or dies is up to her. Should she stay and face a life without her beloved family? Is there anything in her life that is now worth living for?

Mia looks back on her parents as they build up a life for her and her brother. She looks at the strong relationship she has with her rock-musician boyfriend, Adam. The close friendship she has with Kim, her school friend, comes into sharp focus. Is her own future as a music student and promising cellist worth living for? Mia has to hang onto her life or let it go. The choice is hers alone.

Written for older teenagers, If I Stay keeps things clear and mostly unsentimental, but the tone of the novel leaves no doubt in the reader's mind what the outcome of the story will be. Simply and sometimes movingly told, Mia's story will stay with you for a long time.

John Millen can be contacted on [email protected]