If I Stay - Gayle Forman "I'm not choosing, but I'm running out of fight"

Mia's life is great. She has loving parents, a sweet brother, a charming boyfriend, a dear friend, and a possible career as a Juilliard trained cellist. But everything changes one February morning...and now she must make a heartwrenching decision.

I've seen this novel popping up on my Goodreads friends' feeds, usually accompanied by 4 and 5 star reviews. This made me intrigued. I am not usually a big young adult contemporary novel reader (been there, done that, don't want to remember it), but this time I braved my prejudices and the atrocious "Will appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight" from USA Today (really, what is it with EVERYONE comparing any young adult novel with a hint of paranormal or romance to the Twilight series???) and took the plunge.

This book is a breeze to read. I didn't have much time over the weekend to finish it, but I STILL got it done in like four days. The writing is clear, intelligent, yet realistic. Mia's voice is that of a teenager--sure, a mature teenager, but a teenager none-the-less. No endless uses of "chagrined" and "verbose", no weird sentence structure, just the nice, sweet, "plain" voice of a teenager.

The other part of the novel that really appealed to me was its location. This might be one of the ONLY books I've ever read that actually is located where I lived! However, I find I have a complaint I've heard reviewers give to other books with prominent set pieces: the Oregon in "If I Stay" doesn't bear that much resemblance to the Oregon I see every day. I understand that the location isn't supposed to be a second character, that it wasn't the focus, but numerous times I paused and had to wonder. Why is seeing Mount Hood an indication they are getting closer to Portland? Where do Mia and her family live? (Coastal Oregon? Down south closer to Salem and Eugene? Or do they live in the dry West like in Redmond or Bend?) What mall does her mother take her to? Washington Square? Lloyd Center? Pioneer Square? To my knowledge Oregon doesn't have a "Rose Parade" on New Year's Day--that is sometime in June (replete with Oregon crappy weather). Is the hospital OHSU? Does Adam take Mia to Voodoo donuts then to the Waterfront (boy, that would be a bit of a walk!)? Where do her grandparents live? What is the university that they refer to? Is it OSU, PSU, UofO, UofP, Pacific, Western Oregon? Again, I know this isn't important, but I would like more of a shoutout than an occasional "Arlene Schnitzer" reference.

But, that is a very minor pet peeve, and one that is unlikely to affect many other people (unless you are as neurotic or living in Portland like myself!). The heart of the story and its characters are glowing.

Mia, our protagonist, is a scintillating character, full of life, heart, and soul. She is truly a unique character. She isn't too smart, but a brilliant cellist. She has a crazy family, whom she loves. She has a good friend, whom she actually treats like a good friend. She has a boyfriend, with whom she has a healthy relationship. All these reasons make me wonder WHY USA Today calls this book good for fans of Twilight (just because Bella =/= Mia).

The secondary characters are also very alive and unique. Mia's parents are awesome! You got to see how they grew up by having Mia, and yet how they are still "children at heart" (BTW this is how you include punk bands withOUT dragging the story down!!). I love how Mia loves her little brother, Teddy, who is so charming and funny. Adam is completely drool worthy. I love how sentimental he is and how truly self-sacrifical he can be. Kim is totally a friend I wish I had. I love how she broke through her own reservations to let Adam know what happened. And other characters--Henry and Willow, Gran and Gramps--all round out the cast to make this story come alive.

And be prepared--the story may cause you to cry (if I hadn't been reading it on lunch, I would have probably bawled, and I do NOT cry over books!). I really don't want to give too much away, but let me just say this: something bad happens and Mia has to make a choice. As she contemplates her choice, she flips back to the past, to memories of her family, both good and bad. We get to see a real true romance, instead of the insta-love romances populating so many novels today. We get a young woman who LIKES being with her parents instead of some punk always WHINING about being with Mom and Dad. We see Mia working through problems with friends and family, and doing so in a normal, natural way. It was SO refreshing to see people who didn't overdramatize EVERYTHING.

If you are looking for a book that will tug at your heartstrings without playing with your emotions, if you are looking for real characters in real situations, if you are looking for a story that doesn't overdramatize everything (no Big Misunderstandings here!), then pick up this book and perhaps a few tissues. It's a truly beautiful novel, and I can't wait to read the sequel!

Oh, and if Fordman is looking for a Portland setting advisor, I AM HERE!!!