If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Originally posted 2016-12-06 17:00:36.

If I Stay is the latest in Young Adult trilogies to be made into film franchises. At least I’m assuming that’s the plan, as the first installment is slated to hit theaters Friday. Unlike its more supernatural counterparts, Gayle Forman’s novel lacks any mythological creatures, but never fear:she more than overcompensates for it with an obscenely sappy depiction of teenage existence.

I’ve been reading quite a bit of YA fiction lately, and these novels have made it apparent that my high school experience was sorely incomplete. I didn’t have meaning conversations about life, I didn’t make lifelong friends (save my wifey, of course), and I certainly didn’t meet the love of my life. These novels tend to idealize what is, for most people, an awful and awkward four years. One would think that everyone meets soulmates and vampires during this time, all the while attending drunken parties and having sex. Maybe I was just too busy studying and prepping for college – I always thought that was the purpose of high school. Sorry, rant over. So If I Stay takes place in the magical land of high school, which is inhabited by Mia. Mia isn’t one of the cool kids, but she has a loyal best friend, her boyfriend’s band is just taking off, and her cello-playing skills have potentially landed her a spot at Juilliard. As if life wasn’t idyllic enough, Mia also adores her family and has a perfect relationship with both of her parents and her younger brother. I was almost pleased by the catastrophic car accident that wiped out Mia’s entire family, as the overwhelming amount of happiness oozing from every page was just too nauseating for me to handle. Mia is not dead, but she’s not quite alive either; she watches from somewhere in the middle as her body is rushed to the hospital. Thus ghost-Mia must decide if she wants to live or die, all the while listening as her loved ones urge her to pull through.

There is absolutely nothing original about this book; it is essentially a Twilight-ized version of Ghost. Minus the pottery. Mia’s immediate family is all dead, but her dreamy boyfriend, Adam, remains in the world of the living. It actually seems like this guy has been looking for an out from the relationship anyway, but for some reason Mia interprets this as a good enough reason to give living another go. Sorry if that ruined the ending for you – if anything I saved you from having to endure the rest of the book, so be grateful for the spoiler.

In addition to the derivative nature of the plot, Forman includes strange, strange details that are just plain uncomfortable. At one point, Mia describes a sweaty, performing Adam as something that she would like to lick like a lollipop. When Adam comes over to meet the family, Mia’s father has the occasion to suck snake venom from his arm. This is followed up with the most painfully written quasi sex scene that I have ever encountered, commencing with the phrase, “I want you to play me like a cello” (50). Behold a legitimate passage from this exchange:

I reached with my left hand and caressed Adam’s head as if it were the scroll of my cello. He smiled again and closed his eyes. I relaxed a little. I fiddled with his ears as though they were the string pegs and then I playfully tickled him as he laughed softly.

Yeah, sexy. If I Stay is one of those novels that give YA fiction a bad name, and it severely underestimates the target audience. Young adults are capable of appreciating so much more than substandard love stories, and authors of the genre should consider tackling some new material.

Previously published on toocoolforzuul.com