"If I Stay" + "Where She Went" by Gayle Forman | Book Reviews

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In my recent If I Stay Movie vs. Book post I promised you a double book review, so here I am, all done with Where She Went and ready to tell you what I think. Overall, I was surprised by the amount of people who preferred the second book to the first one—I was not among them. Though I enjoyed both of the books, the first one was a definite favorite. 

If I Stay

I loved this book! I was very skeptical about the concept at first: after reading the synopsis, I imagined this book to be slow and depressing, or entirely unrealistic. Basically, in my mind, a book about an out-of-body experience didn't sound engaging. Oh, was I wrong... If I Stay is about Mia, a talented 17-year-old cellist, who is somewhere between life and death after a horrible car accident. She must make a choice whether she wants to live or die, as the chapters alternate between the current situation at the hospital and flashbacks to Mia's past.

First of all, the writing is beautiful. It was intelligent and descriptive, but still sounded believable as a voice of a 17-year-old girl. It had a great balance of what I call "literary language" and yet it still sounded natural, almost like a stream of consciousness at some points. I loved Mia as a character because I got a strong sense of who she was right away and the way she saw the world made sense to me. I think one of the strongest points of Gayle Forman's writing is how she manages to give her characters personality even though she tells the story from a first-person perspective: Mia's family, her friend Kim, her boyfriend Adam—I felt attached to them all and that made the story so much more heartbreaking.

Speaking of heartbreak, this was one of the most emotional books I've ever read. I actually had to take a nap after I finished it, because I felt like my day needed a reset after all of THAT. I don't want to call this book a "tearjerker" because that word has some cheesy sentimental vibe to it, but it definitely made me cry more than once. The only thing that really frustrated me (and this is kind of a spoiler, so maybe skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to know) is Mia's attitude of "I have no family left". What about grandparents, who she supposedly loves? Kim? Adam? Basically, everyone waiting for her to wake up at the hospital—how can she dismiss them over and over again? And I get it, her immediate family is gone, but she is far from being alone in the world.

Where She Went

This book and I didn't get along very well at first. Somehow I managed to know nothing about it and the first thing that threw me off was that it's told from Adam's perspective. Don't get me wrong, I like Adam, but I was expecting a continuation of Mia's story—her recovery, how she deals with her world being turned upside down, etc. Instead I not only get Adam, but also a "three years later" jump, and I really don't like when that happens—I tend to view time jumps as plot patching for not knowing how to get from point A to point B. Now, later in the book everything is explained and just like in the first book there are plenty of flashbacks, but I still never felt quite satisfied.

So here is the deal: three years later Adam is this rockstar with raging emotional issues. Picture your stereotypical jaded and depressed celebrity: girls, pills, drama within the band, and rocky interviews—that's Adam for you. And apparently Mia dropped him like a hot potato once she moved to New York. Then, surprise: they meet—what a coincidence. Can you tell how "excited" I was about this plot? 

What brought this together for me was, once again, Gayle Forman's writing—just as excellent as it was in If I Stay. And I'll admit, Where She Went grew on me a lot in the second half of it, particularly because Adam's experience with the accident and the way he was reworking his feelings was an interesting angle to see the story from. I wasn't into all of the details about the band, but once the book got on with Mia's story and working through past and present feelings (not a spoiler—you KNOW it's coming), I was on board. If you're looking from closure after the first book, you will not be disappointed—the story gets wrapped up in a nice little bow.

Even though I eventually warmed up to Where She Went, I'm still not entirely sure it was necessary to continue the story this way. The way I see it, If I Stay is a standalone book and can be enjoyed on its own, but Where She Went is definitely a "follow-up" novel that didn't really have a big impact on me. Maybe I'm just not into emo boys and damaged goods stories?

Have you read either of these books? Do you have a favorite?