Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mini Reviews: If I Stay and Where She Went

I was so consumed with exams, I missed so many new releases that I would have normally bought the day them came out. My personal reward for finishing exam insanity was to buy all these books. Yes, all of them. Can you imagine? Going into a bookstore, not just buying a book or two, but buying all the ones you want? At full price? If you're anything like me, it's exciting. Very exciting.

Of course, I didn't buy every book. That would have cost thousands of dollars. But I did buy a lot. As a result, I have an awesome to be read pile next to my bed right now, where nearly every book is a must read! Heaven!

Slowly, I've been getting through them. I thought I'd finish them within a week, but I'm trying to pace myself. Recently, I got a comment from a book blogger asking me my thoughts on two of the books from my stack: If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman, both of which I read last week. Now, part of me just wants to write full reviews. But I don't feel like I have enough to say about either book. Solution? Mini-Reviews! 

I'll start with If I Stay.

Plot Summary: Mia is a normal girl. Adorable musician boyfriend Adam, who she loves, but who is pulling away from her as she thinks about going to an out-of-state university. Goofy parents, who she adores and actually likes to spend time with. A cute little brother, Teddy, who's many years younger than her. An obsession with classical music and a promising cello career. But in a moment, all of that is threatened, and most of it is taken away from her, as she barely survives the car crash that takes her family from her. If I Stay is the record of Mia's decision: Should she live or should she die? Live with the heartbreak and pain or die and give up all the possibility and all the love she has left? 

Review: I actually read this book after my last biology exam, before my french exams, so it seems appropriate to give it an IB score. I say 5MH. For any sane, normal non-IBer, that a 5 medium-high, which roughly translates to a 87%, or a solid A. So, pretty good. But not great.

I should say, as a disclaimer, this is not my type of book. It's much darker than what I usually read. I generally avoid books that deal so heavily with death. I only picked this one up because I really, really wanted to read Where She Went, which seemed like it was a lot more romance and a lot less death and despair. But I'm glad I read it. 

It was well written and well structured. I thought Mia's parents and Mia's brother Teddy were all well developed characters. I only knew them for a few chapters, but I was still genuinely invested in their survival. That's a hard feat, something I really credit Gayle Forman for pulling off. 

Mia's extended family was interesting for me. A little less successful, I would say. I loved her fearless best friend Kim. But I was less sure about Adam. There were a handful of Mia/Adam moments that I absolutely loved, such as the one where she goes to his concert on Halloween. But, on the whole, I didn't love Adam. I felt like he pushed her too much. I just didn't trust him. 

Overall, the book felt a little lacking. Like there wasn't enough there. Not enough meat, to quote my english teacher. But what it set out to do, it did very, very well. The characters were (mostly) brilliant. The writing was solid. The plot was well laid out, though I did get a little tired of all the flashbacks. And, of course, the ending was predictable--there is a sequel after all :) 

And now, Where She Went (Be warned: if you haven't read If I Stay and you don't want spoilers about it, stop reading now!)

Plot Summary: Three years after Mia decided to live, we reenter her world, this time through her boyfriend Adam's perspective. In the years that have passed, his band has skyrocketed to fame, and his personal life has been in tatters. He is tired, depressed, and miserable, turning to pills and causing tensions with his band. He hasn't seen Mia since she broke up with him, until one night in NY, he sees her perform. And it is there we begin again.

Review: 7MH (97%/ A++)! Loved it! Absolutely amazing. Everything I wanted it to be and more. Well done, Gayle Forman, well done (what else has she written other than this series? Because I want to get my hands on those books, fast!).

I commented that If I Stay was lacking. Where She Went wasn't. It's full, so full, just so amazing. I find that kind of odd, since the first book tackles a seemingly more serious subject matter (death) while this one explores what one would assume is a lighter subject (first love). But to me, If I Stay is one of many books that deal with death well. Where She Went is one of a handful of books that deals with the fall out of first love well.

And I didn't even like Adam all that much! Not in If I Stay. But I came to love him here. He's messed up, yes, but he's figuring himself out. He's confused. He's heartbroken. He's just amazing. I know, I should be more descriptive. But what can I say--I fell in love with this boy (Cappie/Michael Moscovitz/Wes/Etienne/ level love. I'm telling you, it's serious!). There are no words.

I also came to love Mia. I liked her a lot during If I Stay, but I found her hard to connect to. I just couldn't imagine wanting to die. But here, she felt so real to me. So vulnerable. I thought she'd be cold to Adam, shut him out. And she did for a little while. But eventually, she opened up to him, and she was so real.

Of course, for me, the romantic fanatic, the best part was the romance. Amazing. So well developed, and so earned. So freaking sweet. The moments in flashback and in present were just amazing. I already loved Adam and Mia, and those moments made me love them as a couple (can I just say--tent scene--Oh my freaking god. BEST THING EVER.).

The book was so well rounded. It looked at love from so many sides. It was realistic, but still satisfying. Sweet, but not too sappy. Nearly perfect.

Some parts bored me, I will admit. A good chunk of the beginning, before he found Mia again. Some of the long band flashbacks. I was less invested in the stuff that wasn't about love. But I understand why it was necessary, so it's not really a fault. Just a personal limitation--I only read for romance! (But we already knew that).

To me, this book has a few connections to Megan McCafferty's Jessica Darling series. One is personal, silly really. The reason I read Sloppy Firsts is similar to the reason I read If I Stay--because another book in the series sounded good (in that case it was Fourth Comings that I really wanted to read). The other reason is more literary, or at least legitimate--they both switched narrators. The first four Jessica Darling books are narrated by Jessica (hence the title of the series), but the last book is partly from the perspective of Marcus Flutie, just like these books switch from Mia to Adam narration.

It's an interesting technique. And I'm sorry to say, Ms. McCafferty, but I think Where She Went pulled it off better. A big part of Marcus's allure was his mystery, which was lost when we finally got inside his head. Adam's perspective was more interesting. I don't know how realistic it was for a boy's voice, but I bought it.

Conclusion: If I Stay and Where She Went are both good books. You should read them! To me, there less like a series, more like companion books, since the subject matter is so different, and the perspective is so different. Any way about it, though, you should read them. They're different books, not exactly what I'd call YA romance. But they're good, nonetheless.


  1. Thanks for the reviews! There's a lot of 'in between death/dying' books out there, which I do not normally read, but I think I might take look at these. The second one definitely does sound less morbid!

  2. INFINITE hearts for these two books, I really loved If I Stay (three cheers for death/grief novels? no? okay!) Where She Went.. ahh those flashbacks!!! Adorbs to the max, i can't get over how much i love adam ;)

    also- my commmenting spree has been egged on my reluctance to study for my calc unit test that is due tomorrow... and it's almost 12 so yeah, thanks for the awesome blog! 1 MORE DAY OF SCHOOL THEN FREEDOM + exams but STILL. i can't contain my EXCITEMENT!!! ALSO: just reserved Crow Lake at the library! :)

  3. Yeah, these books were great. I hope you enjoy Crow Lake. My best friend read it and I didn't like it so much, so I'm always hesitant to recommend it.

    And, yay, school's over! SUMMER!


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