If I Stay (Audio CD) If I Stay by Gayle Forman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
What’s the appeal of sad books, anyway? Why do some of us find it cathartic to have a nice weep over a story? Why is a teenager on the brink of choosing life or death after a terrible accident so compelling? Here, part of the appeal is that it’s tightly told. It’s heartbreaking but never maudlin, as Mia weaves reminiscences into the story of the accident. The flashbacks feel natural, connecting in small ways to what’s happening in the hospital without feeling too perfectly matched. There’s enough backstory to feel like you know Mia and her family, as well and her boyfriend and her best friend, but not so much that is distracts from the central question – will she stay? While I personally never doubted how it would end, the story of how she reaches that conclusion is compelling.

One relatively minor quibble with the story, which was probably made worse by the fact that I listened to the audio version. Kirsten Potter did an excellent job reading the story – she sounded like a teenager, and the quality of her voice matched what we know about Mia’s personality. Most of the story works well as a listening experience, especially the dramatic moments in the accident when you might be tempted to flip ahead a few pages in the print version. But the dialogue – oh, the poor dialogue! At first I blamed Kirsten, but then I realized that she was doing the best she could with what was on the page. The lines sometimes feel put into the characters’ mouths – especially Mia’s parents. They felt almost precocious, like Forman was trying too hard to make them hip and savvy and bright. Teddy suffered a bit, too, as well as some family friends. The teenagers, thankfully, felt more natural, but I’d be curious to hear if anyone else found the dialogue distracting.

On the whole, a moving story that avoids too much sentimentality, and recommended to high school girls, in particular, who like that sort of thing – although it’s not too girly, so I imagine it has a male audience, too.

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