I work part-time in a public library in a very small town and last week a young girl came in to sign up for a library card. All went well until she was asked if she was looking for anything in particular. “Yes, If I Stay,” she said. “So sorry was the reply, we don't have that one,” and we knew because that was not the first inquiry and since the movie is newly in the cinema it is in demand. I hate hate hate it when that happens, I feel we should be able to get books fast and as soon as there is any indication it will be in demand. But such is not the case in small towns in Indiana with tiny budgets. Nevertheless, I then rushed out to buy it, read it, and donate it to the library so I don't have to witness any other eager teen's dismay.
If there is anyone who hasn't contemplated the state of “limbo” (that transitional state of not being in one place and yet not fully in the other) I have never met them. As a matter of fact that seemed to be a frequent topic among my school friends when I was about 11 or 12. No one seems to know if there really is such a state or what it would feel like to be thus. If I Stay is a tale of a girl not only in limbo following a car accident, but realizing she is to make the decision to pass on into death where all of her immediate family have gone, or to stay on the earth and live on which means bearing unquestionable grief, pain, and uncertainty.
Sounds like a painful read doesn't it? But it isn't! It is most certainly a teen book but as an adult I fully enjoyed it. It is fascinating to follow Mia from the scene of the accident to the hospital waiting room where she watches her extended family grapple with their own grief, worry, and acceptance. She must weigh the consequences of either of her choices as they do also. Some beg her to stay, but some give her permission to go if she wants to, and both of those feel like gifts to her and measures of lovingly granting her freedom.
I liked the structure of the book with alternate chapters being in the present then in the past. Characterizations were deftly written making the reader feel vested in many characters. Mia's parents are not portrayed as perfect and certainly not as traditional, which is refreshing. Friends, like Henry, and Kim have problems and foibles of their own that they are working through.
The love story between Mia and Adam is also non-traditional but feels real. This small book is an afternoon read and I am pretty sure should be a satisfying little movie. In the end of my copy there is a section of book club discussion questions, but better than that a little bit about where Mia is four years later. It will make you want to pick up the sequel.