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Wow. I just finished If I Stay by Gayle Forman, and it's safe to say I've never read anything like it before. I was so captivated by this novel and it's concept that it was hard to put down. It's about a 17-year-old gir, Mia, who, at the beginning of the book, has a great life. She has a loving family, loyal best friend, the popular rocker boyfriend who's totally devoted to her. Oh, and she's an amazing cellist. Like, going to Juilliard amazing. Until, on an impromptu drive, her family's car is hit by a truck and Mia finds herself in the hospital fighting for her life. The majority of the novel is spent with Mia in spirit form watching as family, friends, and her boyfriend Adam fight for her to stay in the world of the living. While in the hospital, Mia realizes that it is her decision alone if she will stay.
A couple of quotes really stuck out to me in this book. The first occurs on pg. 108 when Mia describes how her best friend Kim saved her from quitting the cello. "I was overwhelmed with gratitude to be friends with someone who often seemed to understand me better than I understood myself." I like this quote because we all want that one friend, and if we have that one friend, we hold on to them with an iron grip. Some of us get lucky and meet that friend in kindergarten, and others, like Mia, don't meet that friend until they are older. No matter when you meet that friend, you somehow just know that friend is "the one." And let's be honest, friends are just about the biggest part of school. If you have a friend who has your back, you can get through anything. I mean ANYTHING. That's what makes a best friend so special. Kim does not disappoint in the best friend arena. While Mia is in the hospital, Kim does all that she can to make sure Mia gets through this "anything."
I think one reason I like this book is because it doesn't sugar coat the realities of life. It's very honest about the fact that sometimes life is a picnic...and sometimes it's not. Mia is a high school senior and her boyfriend Adam is in college. They've naturally started to go in different directions but neither wants to admit it. Mia says, "My stomach lurched, an appetizer before the full portion of heartache I had a feeling was going to be served at some point soon," (171). We've all been there, dealing with a struggle of some sort. Maybe it's a boyfriend who's going in a different direction, a friend who betrays us, or something else entirely. But we've all felt that stomach lurch. Having lived through my fair share of stomach lurches, (and realizing I've surely got more to come), it also struck me how, in the moment, sometimes the struggle seems like it's the only thing going on in the world. But, after we push through it, we look back on it and realize it wasn't so bad. Maybe it was even good we went through it because it made us stronger. It's helped us to grow in some way. So I guess I appreciate the book's admittance of reality. Sometimes we want to read to escape life's realities, and sometimes we need a dose of reality itself. This book definitely gives us that.
I just finished reading Monster, by Walter Dean Myers, at the recommendation of a peer, and I'm glad it was recommended to me. Monster is about a 16-year-old African American boy, Steve Harmon, who is on trial for a robbery gone wrong at a convenience store in his neighborhood. Steve lives in a rough neighborhood in New York, and because of his tangental association with the people in his neighborhood who were seen committing the crime, he is accused as well. The book starts at Steve's trial and follows the proceedings all the way through to a verdict. I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will say that I was on the edge of my seat reading it.
Even though the book was written in 1999, it could have easily been set in 2016. The book touches on themes of racial profiling and portrays an institutionally biased criminal justice system. As I was reading the narrative bits of the book, and listening to Steve's internal debate on whether or not he is a monster because society has deemed him so, I couldn't help but to connect it with what we've been seeing on the news lately. As the book goes on, we come to see that there is no real evidence against Steve, except that he lives in a bad neighborhood and knows some of the people who live there and who have done bad things. Therefore he is presumed guilty by association.
So if I haven't got you hooked by the plot, I'll tell you the structure of this book is really cool. It's considered multi-genre because it jumps around between Steve's diary, photo's, and a screenplay that Steve is writing of the whole thing. We find out midway through the novel that Steve is quite a talented film maker, and as a result, he decides to tell the whole story of his trial as if it is a movie. The book uses different fonts for each genre the reader sees, which adds a cool visual element as well. Another cool effect of this multi-genre approach, is that we get to see the story from a first person POV (Steve's via his diary) and a third person objective POV (via the screenplay). This contrasting POV gives the story yet another layer of interest as the reader waits to see how Steve will react to each courtroom scene.
One more bonus, it's a quick read. At just 281 pages and with large font on many of the pages, it's a good one to grab if you don't have a lot of time on your hands. However, that does not make the book any less thought-provoking. In a very short amount of space, Walter Dean Myers has provided his readers with a story that addresses real, deep issues. It's a book that will certainly leave an impact.