I’m a sucker for a good YA novel. I’m an even bigger sucker for a good YA novel where there is tragic death or dismemberment or some sort of horrible disease or a dead boyfriend. I cut my teenage teeth on Cynthia Voigt. Izzy, Willy-Nilly had me convinced that if I ever got in the car with someone who had had even one beer, I’d lose my leg, too,or even worse. And I wanted If I Stay to be good. I really, really did. But it just…wasn’t.
For the uninitiated, the story revolves around one day in the life of Mia, a seventeen year old senior who appears to have it all: grandparents who love her, cool rocker parents, a sweet younger brother Teddy, a hot rock star boyfriend, a great best friend, and a promising future studying the cello at Julliard. In the blink of an eye, a head on car accident kills her parents and her brother, leaving Mia’s body clinging to life while she floats above the scene, watching the paramedics try to save her. Mia sees the family – both her blood relatives and her friends – come to see her, and slowly realizes that she alone has the power to decide whether to stay behind with them, but without her parents and brother, or to leave them and go to the great beyond.
In a series of flashbacks, we learn about Mia’s life, from her dad’s transformation from punk rock rebel to cool hipster English teacher to her sweet boyfriend Adam, who plays in a rock band that’s just becoming famous and supports Mia wholeheartedly, even though their musical tastes are at opposite ends of the spectrum. We meet Teddy, the younger brother who appears to worship the ground his older sister walks on, Mia’s mom, who seems like the fun hippy mom I always wanted but was secretly glad I didn’t have, and the best friend Kim, who is wise beyond her years.
The book wasn’t awful. But I can’t say that it was tremendously well-done either. Perhaps it just didn’t live up to the hype I’ve been seeing about it. And while I know I’m not the target audience, I’m not so sure I would feel differently if I were seventeen. I felt like Mia’s family life was a little too perfect, and her relationship with Adam was a little too adult. Perhaps it’s my inner cynic, but it’s hard for me to believe in Mia + Adam 4eva. There were already signs of struggle, and I can’t imagine something like becoming an orphan at seventeen while your boyfriend’s rock star status is taking off is going to help the preexisting issues go away. But more than that, I felt like the book was presented as a story about a girl trying to make a choice – I mean, for Pete’s sake, the name of the book is If I Stay – but I never got the sense that there was ever a choice. There was no suspense, no feeling that Mia was agonizing about her parents and Teddy being dead, no question as to whether Mia would stay. In fact, without looking at the sequels, I’ll predict that Mia lives, goes on to Julliard, she and Adam break up, it’s devastating, and then he comes back in to her life in some way, turning everything she knows upside down, and eventually they wind up together. And that’s probably a good story – it’s got a happy ending – but I kind of just don’t care.
And, this is a tiny nit to pick, it was written in present tense. Which I sort of hate with the heat of a thousand suns. So maybe Forman didn’t even have a fighting chance with me. I may catch the movie when it eventually turns up on TBS, but only if Law & Order isn’t playing for the eleven-billionth time on TNT.