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Eugene Weekly : Books : 4.1.10

 

Memories and Futures

Gayle Forman presents a shattered idyll

by Suzi Steffen

IF I STAY, young adult fiction by Gayle Forman. Speak, 2010 (paperback edition). $8.99.

Don’t drive on Hwy. 99 in snowy, icy conditions, OK?

Oregonians probably know that already. For 17-year-old Mia and her tender, loving family (mom, dad, young brother Teddy), the decision to go from what seems to be Corvallis to her grandparents’ house near Portland turns into a tragedy in the 2009 novel If I Stay.

Mia’s a privileged girl, a fantastic cello player about to go to Juilliard (which, for this young woman, feels like a different country). She has a wonderful, loving boyfriend who’s a popular indie rocker; she has a intensely caring best friend. We know all of this because as Mia lies on the verge of death in intensive care at a Portland hospital, her friends and remaining family gather around her, trying to convince her that she still has something to live for. She can hear them talking and watch them interacting; her consciousness is floating somewhere, able to go a certain distance from her body and — without interacting — understand what’s happening.

The concept, hoary and hokey, sounds designed to appeal to fans of Lurlene McDaniel’s “weepies,” but Oregon author Forman turns the tale into something more meditative and existential. Mia’s a thoughtful, complex character in horrific circumstances, suspended in an agonizing and terrible place. Does she have enough left to live for? Despite the fundamentally melodramatic plot and one silly episode, If I Stay holds tension, longing, grief and humanity as Mia spends the long night making her decision.

Gayle Forman reads at 7 pm Monday, April 5, at Powell’s at Cedar Hills Crossing, Beaverton.