If I Stay by Gayle Forman
Black Swan, 2010.
(Age 13+) Highly recommended. It's a snowy day in Oregon, a place that sounds a bit like England in that it grinds to a halt when the snow falls. Schools are closed, transport is in chaos and people decide to take time off work. Seventeen year old Mia, her parents and little brother Teddy take advantage of the unexpected holiday to visit friends. On the journey they are involved in a catastrophic crash. Both parents are killed instantly and Mia and Teddy are mortally injured.
In an out of body experience, Mia finds herself by the side of the road, watching medics frantically trying to save her and her little brother. The story revolves around Mia's gradual realisation that, although in a coma, she has the power to decide whether to 'stay' or 'go'.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks and we discover the pivotal musical influences of Mia's life. As the only brown eyed brunette in her family she feels like a changeling. She is a talented cellist with the offer of a place at the prestigious Juilliard, and her love of classical music is a surprise to her parents (Dad was a rock musician until imminent fatherhood made him train as a teacher). Boyfriend, Adam, is lead singer in an increasingly successful band and the juxtaposition between cello and lead guitar sometimes causes tension in the intensity of first love. Making a decision about Julliard is hard, as accepting a place will mean leaving Adam, but suddenly Mia is faced with a far more difficult choice.
Told sparingly, this is a faultlessly constructed, harrowing and at times humorous story of twenty four hours in the life of a girl whose survival hangs in the balance. Forman is particularly successful in asking readers to contemplate the big questions, yet placing them in the context of the every day, almost mundane events of typical family life.
I won't spoil the story by revealing Mia's decision, but handkerchiefs will be an essential requirement. Gayle Forman seems to alternate feather light sensitivity with sledgehammer force and it works brilliantly. Her readers have to sweat it out and boy, it's worth the effort. Try this with your teenage readers who demand an intelligent and thought provoking read.