Warning: Minor spoilers.
I had literally seen this book everywhere in the blogosphere when I picked it up the other day at the bookshop, which is why it’s kind of weird that I had no idea what it was actually about!
So for those who, like me, seem to have been living in a cave and don’t know what If I Stay is about, it tells the story of Mia, a seventeen-year old girl with a loving but unconventional family, cool boyfriend, great best friend and an exceptional talent for music. Her life is great until one day everything changes – a car accident leaves her on the cusp of death, and during an out-of-body experience she realises that she has a choice: to live or to die.
Now I know this book is incredibly popular, and loads of people love it, but I have to admit, I really didn’t enjoy it. The ‘perfect family’ picture painted in the first chapter not only felt kind of cheesy and contrived to me, but was fairly obviously setting up the oncoming tragedy, and I found myself inwardly groaning when I realised the premise of the book was an out-of-body experience, complete with flashbacks.
However, the most immediate problem I had with this book was Mia herself: I really didn’t like her as a character. And seen as she was the main character, that was a pretty big problem! Whilst I could obviously sympathise with the horrific situation she ends up in, the picture painted of her through the flashbacks made her seem kind of prissy and whiny. The part where she cries because her best friend and boyfriend don’t absolutely love each other in particular made me think ‘are you actually serious right now?’, and don’t get me started on how her and best buddy Kim became friends! The two most goody-two shoes characters ever got into a random fist fight? That seemed totally inconsistent with their characters, and I really couldn’t understand their initial hostility towards each other in the first place (apparently everyone thought they would get on, so they decided to hate each other?).
And then there’s Adam, helping provide the book with the age-old ‘good-girl, bad-boy’ love story. Why not just rename them Danny and Sandy and make it a musical? I really couldn’t buy into their relationship, and when it was one of the main reasons why Mia would consider staying, that was kind of a problem. There were some parts that I think were meant to be amazingly romantic but that just made me think he was a bit of a moron: for example the part where he comes up with an elaborate plan to break into the ICU to see Mia which involves distracting the nurses who are trying to care for his critically injured girlfriend, not to mention a whole load of other people in a pretty serious condition. Is it just me, or is that an incredibly stupid and selfish thing to do? The plan itself also seemed pretty ridiculous and far-fetched: he gets a well-known singer to give an impromptu concert in the hospital lobby. Would nurses in an ICU really abandon patients because someone was singing in the lobby?
However, although I didn’t really like Mia or Adam, I did quite like Mia’s family: her tough but loving mother, her sweet and slightly quirky father and her little brother Teddy. I also to certain extent liked best friend Kim, aside from the ridiculous way her and Mia became friends, because whilst Adam seems overly dramatic, and Mia kind of whiny, Kim is pretty straight-talking and sensible, and has a good perspective on things. However, these being secondary characters, they really weren’t enough to save the book for me.
I also wasn’t that interested in the frequent flashbacks. Whilst I understood the necessity of them to show us what Mia had and what she has lost, and why she should stay, some of them seemed kind of irrelevant to the plot to me.
Overall, I didn’t really like this book (as you may have gathered!). If I had known the plot beforehand I would have expected to have been taken on a massive emotional rollercoaster, but it didn’t really feel like that. Although what happens is definitely tragic, I feel like since it was from Mia’s perspective it should have felt more emotional for me, as opposed to sad in the distant way that something bad you read on the news is sad. However, I have read reviews of this book since reading it where other people have said it brought tears to their eyes, so perhaps it just wasn’t for me! There’s such a massive hype around it that I would probably recommend that people read it just to see what they think. Maybe the hype was part of the problem – perhaps I was just expecting more because it was so popular and so many people liked it! I’m not sure, but unfortunately If I Stay just wasn’t my thing.