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.