If I Stay – Not So Dark

I just now finished IF I STAY by Gayle Forman. In case you don’t know, it’s gotten rave reviews and is one of the books featured in the WSJ article “Young Adult Fiction Takes a Dark Turn.” IF I STAY doesn’t have the shock value of WINTERGIRLS or perhaps the unraveling mystery of THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. Nor does it race along with the sick thrill of a dystopian competition as in THE HUNGER GAMES. But while I liked all these books very much, I liked IF I STAY best of all. Why? Because while extreme sadness weaves throughout Mia’s story, I didn’t find it dark. Instead I found Mia honest, real and relatable. Consider this passage

“It’s not that my life has been perfect. I’ve had disappointments and I’ve been lonely and frustrated and angry and all the crappy stuff everyone feels. But in terms of heartbreak, I’ve been spared. I’ve never toughened up enough to handle what I’d have to handle if I were to stay.”

As I’ve been critiquing manuscripts this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about story promise. Beginning with my predictions from the title, Forman fulfilled my expectations for the story. She made good on her word. And I like that.

As Mia weighs her decision, Forman elegantly blends Mia’s memories of the past with the current hospital and visitor activity surrounding her, allowing IF I STAY to rise from the label of dark, angst-filled YA and more fully emerge as a story of hope.