Monday, November 1, 2010

An Open Letter to Gayle Forman, author of If I Stay

To my blog readers: apologies for deviating from the standard review structure.  Certain books evoke such responses.  If I Stay by Gayle Forman is one of them.   

Dear Ms. Forman:
This letter is to let you know that you broke my heart last night.  I know that we've never met and likely never will, but a good narrative always transcends such obstacles.  If I Stay did me in for a few days.  My eyes are still swollen this morning.
After the first few pages, I thought I might have been misled by what I had heard.  That damn family was so cheerful, so together; I hated them.  I kept waiting for Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield to bound through the door with their twin smiles and matching dimples.  Annoyed as I was, I couldn't quite bring myself to close the book.  I should've known it was a setup. 
And that's when I realized it.  That wicked emotion that whispers one thing in our ears, letting us think we are justified and righteous, but then laughs at us behind our backs.  Oh yes, it took me a few minutes, but then I knew: I was jealous.
Do you remember that old Michael Keaton movie My Life?  There was line in it that a lady said, something to the effect of, "The best thing parents can do for their kids is to just love each other.  Kids gotta marinate in love, and after about 18 years, they're real juicy."  See, my parents are divorced - it's not uncommon, but it's still a personal loss.  We children of broken homes will tell you in our best Dr. Phil demeanor, that yes, of course, we would rather our parents be happy apart than miserable together.  Yes, we will tell you that, and after all, it's true.  However, if we ever pace out the what ifs and weigh the consequences of our parents' decisions, then I have to tell you that in our secret heart of hearts, most of us would a million times a million rather that they had loved each other.  That we know we are loved by them is unquestionable; to have known and seen them love each other?  Well, that would have been a welcomed extra shelf of support to lay our lives on.  Mia had that beauty in her life, and I was slick with slimy-on-the-surface, clinging green seaweed-like envy. 
So, on with the point.  Mia's family was quirky and fun and made the most of life.  They had good banter and truly enjoyed time in each other's company.  In short, it's the sort of family I hope to have myself one day.  I am getting married soon, and Mia is just the the sort of daughter I dream of: intelligent, has moments of doubt, but certainly not over her own abilities or her fundamental sense-of-self, and she is able to make her own decisions and deal with their consequences.   Perhaps most important of all, Mia is good. She is a genuinely good person.  How could she not be when she is surrounded by people who love her and want to see her happy?  Mia's family was beautiful - they loved each other, and they encouraged one another's personal growth as individuals and made room for those changes within the family.  Mia had a bright future with such a family.  After 17 years of marinating in love, Mia was indeed very juicy.
Then it was all gone.  This is where I count my blessings.  I would elaborate, but feeling guilty is a private matter.  It's enough that you know.
I could go on and on about your writing skills: original metaphors, emotional dialogue, harrowing descriptions, soul slicing flashbacks - and trust me, it's all there - but what really matters is Mia's journey.  It became my own.  I have a very pronounced fear of death.  I think it's my inner control freak.  I know it's coming.  I have no say in it.  I just hate that.  Mia did have the choice since she was somewhere in between.  Either way she went, it would have distressed me because, for a time, I was her.  Books that force a confrontation with death always do that to me.  You should have seen me after I read The Book Thief or watched Wit.  They broke my heart, too.
After I finished reading, I crawled into my fiancee's arms, told him I love him, and informed him that if I ever was in the ICU, under no circumstances was he to pull the plug.  I told him he damn well better order me to get my ass back with him where it belongs.  I told him I loved him again and tried to go to sleep. 
I was up all night.  Like I said, you broke my heart.
Bravo, Ms. Forman.  If I Stay is the best 'job well done' I've read in a while. 
With gratitude,


  1. Awwww...I'm reading this right now :(

  2. Oh wow, let me know what you think. I finished it Sunday night, and I reread some passages last night and was still tearing up. It's just a book that hits home, you know?

  3. Linds!!! Thanks for helping me discover a new found love!!! hahaha..I am soooooo reading this book!!! I will let you know what I think! Great site!!! :)

  4. Beautiful review Linds, I loved this format and that you did something different with your review because the book had such a profound effect on you. I'll be picking this one up for sure!

  5. Thanks, Jenny! I appreciate you taking a look!

  6. I love how you formatted this review. Its perfect! I've read this book too and went I was done, it seemed like it was all I could think about and I cried for hours and wasn't able to sleep. When I was done reading, I looked up the synopsis to "Where She Went" and just reading that sent me into another spell of crying for an hour. ( I would not recommend reading the synopsis to book 2, if you haven't read the If I Stay.)

    Thank you for sharing this with us.
    Loni (

  7. This is the first time that I've ever wound up on your site (I found it through a tweet by Gayle Forman actually).

    I read If I Stay this past summer and reviewed it on my site. It really is, as you say, a truly amazing novel with the great stuff that novels ought to have. Your review gave me flashbacks to the novel, in a good way, so thanks for that.

  8. Beautiful review. Congratulations on the twitter and facebook mentions. Well deserved. And the book's going on my must-read list.

  9. Oh, this is such an amazing review for such a gorgeous novel. I have a totally nuclear family, and I still felt jealous of Mia -- and then guilty, and I loved her journey. And my heart was broken, too.

    This review perfectly sums up my reading experience of If I Stay. So fantastic <3

  10. Linds!!

    Why did you have to send me the link to this while I'm at work? Now I'm sobbing buckets.

    How strange that I now feel like you are my kindred spirit because of how envious I become of Mia and her perfect family, of her parents that love each other and were still together. How I long to have those very same things, just like you mentioned.

    I wish I could say more, but I can't even gather my thoughts! I'm a mess. I think I remember seeming My Life long ago, but now I'm dying to re-watch it, along with Wit. And I've heard great things about The Book Thief, so I have to make plans to read that soon.

    Thank you for this letter. It was beautiful.

    P.S. I could totally see you writing a story of your own, once in which a teen tries to make sense of her parents' divorce. Ms. Forman was a journalist before she became a novelist. You are a journalist with a way with words... is this you calling? ;)

  11. Oh, Missie! No woman, no cry! Actually, I don't blame you - I cried reading that book, I cried writing this letter, and I teared up reading your response.

    A warning on Wit - no book or film, including If I Stay, destroyed me the way that movie did. I was shaking - watch it on a Friday, alone or with someone you trust to see you so flipping upset. It will wreck you, especially if you've ever had some one close to you battle a terminal illness. I was introduced to it through a metaphysical poetry class I took in grad school - the professor had us watch it in class. Even the boys looked ashen, and some actually cried a little. The girls were a mess.

    Ah, writing! To dream the dream! Thanks for the wonderful compliment. Maybe someday, but right now, I am too undisciplined and knee-deep with wedding stuff. I told my soon-to-be-hubby that I want to do NaNoWriMo next year, though.

    Always a pleasure to have your comments - I feel ya, sister.


  12. I'm late reading your review, I wish I had found it sooner. It's perfection. It's everything I would have liked to say. If I stay has become a very important book to me as well. I bought copies for friends and family for Christmas and I still think about parts of the book almost daily. There are not too many books no matter how much I've loved them that have given that kind of impact.

  13. Wow! What an amazing review. This is one of those reviews that make me immediately go and buy the book. I can remember when I was a young girl thinking how unfair it was that I couldn't just have a "normal" family. A family just like the one you described. Thanks for bringing this book to my attention!


  14. Amazing letter/review! Definitely well written.

    This is one of the best books I think I've ever come across. I completely agree- Bravo Ms. Forman, Bravo!!

  15. Wow. Okay, so this is a fabulous letter and a great way to get the point and weight of a book across.

    I think you did an amazing job lacing the emotions of If I Stay into your letter. Perhaps if I would have thought of this it wouldn't have taken me a month to write my review of If I Stay and another two weeks for Where She Went.

    You really did do amazing with this.