Book Review: If I Stay (Books 1 & 2)

Photo Source: Hungry Healthy Girl

“I realize now that dying is easy. Living is hard.”

First let me start by warning you that this post contains spoilers. Don’t read further if you haven’t read the books, or are planning on seeing the film. While normally I don’t like to spoil a book, I find it’s hard to discuss this series without a few spoilers. Having said that, I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum.

When I picked As I Lay by Gayle Forman up I didn’t know anything about it except for what’s in the synopsis. Even with the movie trailers on television, the only thing I knew about this book was that a young girl ends up in a terrible accident and flashes back on her life. Faced with a decision to go into the light or return to the Land of the Living, her loving boyfriend tries to convince her to stay. Now that I’ve read it, that’s exactly what its about, but it’s also about so much more.

Mia and Adam have a love that is deep and powerful for two 17 year olds to have. Despite their differences, Mia and Adam fall hard for each other and are the loves of each other’s lives. Then tragedy stuck. Usually this is the end of the story, but Forman weaves flashes of Mia and Adam’s love affair through Mia’s present via flashbacks. Not only do we see how these two fell for each other, but Mia’s accident becomes even more powerful the more we learn about her life and family. Forman’s themes of love, grief, and family make If I Stay one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year. Her use of music and pop culture references throughout the book makes this story feel real and will touch the life of anyone who’s been in either Mia’s shoes or in those of the people who love her.

Kindle Edition, 212 pages

Published April 2nd 2009 by Speak (first published 2009)
ASIN B0020BUWX2
Edition Language: English

“If you stay, I’ll do whatever you want. I’ll quit the band, go with you to New York. But if you need me to go away, I’ll do that, too. I was talking to Liz and she said maybe coming back to your old life would be too painful, that maybe it’d be easier for you to erase us. And that would suck, but I’d do it. I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.”

The above quote from If I Stay is what sets the stage for the events in the sequel, Where She Went. The official synopsis states:

It’s been three years since Mia walked out of Adam’s life.

And three years he’s spent wondering why.

When their paths cross again in New York City, Adam and Mia are brought back together for one life-changing night.

Adam finally has the opportunity to ask Mia the questions that have been haunting him. But will a few hours in this magical city be enough to lay their past to rest, for good – or can you really have a second chance at first love?

If I Stay could honestly have been a stand alone novel, but I’m glad Forman decided to continue with a second book. In fact, I honestly loved Where She Went a tad bit more. While the first book is told from Mia’s perspective, this one is told from Adam’s. As the synopsis states, this book picks up three years after the first ended. Adam is a rock star, dating a Hollywood actress, and has earned lots of awards for his music. However, despite ‘living the life,’ Adam still hasn’t gotten over Mia and what happened to their relationship following Mia’s tragic accident. If the first book deals with love, grief, and family, then this book deals with forgiveness.

Like If I Stay, this book is chock full of musical references. Each chapter begins with the lyrics from some of the big hits off Adam’s hit album, and I found they add to Adam’s state of mind. The lyrics are powerful and detail how the events from the first book affected him. Also like the first book, we get flashbacks, but this time the flashes take us through the three year gap between novels and reveal what went wrong with this love story. Even though I found Where She Went frustrating at times, as someone who’s dealt with major grief before, I understood Mia and Adam’s actions. What I found the most interesting was that in the battle between Adam and Mia, I sided with Adam once his perspective took over the story. Forman did a wonderful job showing both sides to this relationship, and it wasn’t until the end that I realized how much my opinions of the characters changed based on the point of view. Overall, I found Where She Went to be very difficult to put down, and loved the conclusion to this wonderful story.

Kindle Edition, 274 pages
Published April 5th 2011 by Speak (first published April 1st 2011)
ASIN B004H4XDBI
Edition Language: English

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