YA Double Shot: ‘If I Stay’ and ‘Where She Went’ by Gayle Forman

I used to have a job that required driving a little over an hour each way. That meant I spent about 2.5 hours in the car every day, which was exactly as much of a drag as you would expect. I spent some of my driving time listening to podcasts and some of it singing along with Katy Perry on the radio, but occasionally I’d try to listen to an audio book. However, finding a good audio book is almost as hard as singing along with Katy Perry when you’re basically tone deaf. Sometimes, even a book that’s great on paper isn’t going to be great when someone’s reading it to you on the highway at 6 am. But as soon as I started the first disc of If I Stay by Gayle Forman, I was hooked. I was instantly drawn into high school cello player Mia’s life.

I should warn you, though, that this book might not actually be a good choice to listen to while driving. (Here comes a spoiler, even though it happens at the beginning and it’s in basically every description of the book, so it’s really a minor spoiler. But proceed at your own risk!). That’s because a terrible car crash kills everyone else in Mia’s family and puts her in a coma. Gayle Forman’s details about the aftermath of this crash were so real, so visceral, that I felt like I might throw up or cry. That’s when I knew Gayle Forman was a really great writer, and that I was reading/listening to a really great book.

The majority of the book takes place after the accident, while Mia’s in a coma. That’s where the title comes from–will Mia decide to go, knowing her whole family is gone? Or will she decide to stay among the living with her best friend Kim and her (dreamy musician) boyfriend Adam and her memories of her family?

This probably sounds really depressing. Weirdly enough, it’s not depressing at all–although, full disclosure, it did end up making me cry. But we’ve established that’s no difficult feat, right? I mean, this weekend I cried during an episode of Sister Wives, so, you know. Anyway, If I Stay is actually an incredibly moving and life-affirming book. The narrative alternates between the present-day, when Mia’s in a coma, and memories of her life with her family and Adam. It will make you think about what your life means to you, what’s important, and what you would do in Mia’s situation.

And guess what? There’s a sequel! I didn’t listen to this one on audiobook because I was all, “Fool me once, Gayle Forman!” but, as it turns out, Where She Went was significantly less upsetting. It was just as great, though, and gave some much-needed closure to If I Stay (seriously, when you finish If I Stay you’ll need to read Where She Went). You can read what HelloGiggles writer Rebecca Kuitems wrote about it here, but I’ll just tell you that it’s from Adam’s point of view and it’s pretty swoony. But, you know, in a realistically depressing-yet-uplifting way.

Some Highlights:

-You know how sometimes, when an author writes about a character who’s a musician, it seems really super dorky? Maybe the author will use a dumb band name or write lyrics that make you cringe because they’re kind of lame? Well, Gayle Forman makes Adam seem like a totally real, believable and, most importantly, non-dorky musician. His band is called Shooting Star (totally normal band name!) and the band’s lyrics seem like real song lyrics.

-Gayle Forman has a new book, Just One Day, coming out on January 8th! If you’re thinking, “Kerry, why are you writing about her old book when her new one is almost out?” well, that’s because I haven’t read the new one yet. Maybe someday I’ll get to read all the books I want to before they’re published, but that day is not today! I do have it on good authority (i.e., a lovely reader who emailed me) that I’m going to love it. So let’s all check it out on Tuesday, okay?

What about you? Have you read If I Stay or Where She Went? Are you as excited as I am about Gayle Forman’s new book? As always, I love to hear your recommendations for books to include in Young Adult Education! Leave me a comment, email me at youngadulteducation@gmail.com or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

Image via Kids Momo