Thursday, April 7, 2011

If I Stay & Where She Went: Why You Must Read Them

A couple of years ago I read a book that stuck with me. It was one of those teen novels that an adult can pick up and devour, one which I’ve seen more adults love than teens. I loved this book, spoke about it often, wrote about it, and even spoke about it at the 2009 Warwick’s Reading Group Recommends Night. Here’s a brief snippet of what I had to say.

Mia is a promising cellist living a fulfilling life with her parents, young brother, and boyfriend, when in the blink of an eye her entire world is taken away. As she sees her past and the promise of an uncertain and painful future Mia must make a heart wrenching choice: let go of her tenuous hold on life, or stay, live without all that she holds dear. If I Stay by Gayle Forman is the most compelling book I’ve read this year, and surprisingly enough it is a teen novel. This is an amazing debut novel that pulls you in and does not let go.

It’s true, this book stayed with me, and two years on I still remember the visceral effect this book had on my emotions. It is one of the few books I had to sit and contemplate upon finishing, rather than hop directly onto the next book. I even downloaded the music mentioned in it—and have become a fan of many of the songs—because I wanted those unique feelings to last.

On Tuesday (April 4, 2011), Where She Went, the sequel to this amazing debut came out. Taking place three years after the horrific accident that destroyed Mia’s family, this book is told from the point of view of Adam, Mia’s former the boyfriend, the person who made Mia stay in this world, when it would have been so easy to let go. Adam, now a famous musician, is barely holding it together mentally, emotionally, and socially when a chance encounter with Mia, a rising star in the classical world, sets off a night of remembrance that will finally give him the answer to where she went and why she stayed.

I don’t know how she does it, but Gayle Forman manages to tap into your emotions in a way few authors can. You feel not only for the characters, but also with them. If I Stay was such an emotional roller coaster, dealing with the pain of loss and question of living with that pain or leaving it all behind, and Where She Went is equally brilliant emotionally, but here it is the anger of being left (physically and metaphysically) behind that rolls over the reader like a tidal wave. Her use of music and lyrics are inspired—truly tapping into the importance of music within the lives of Mia and Adam, but also how much we, the readers rely on music and its’ cathartic powers in our everyday lives. It’s as though she has this brilliant score running beneath the text, not so noticeable that it detracts, but just enough to add to our understanding of the plot and character development. She moves us with music without us ever hearing a single chord. I don’t know how she does it, but I want more.

If every book could this good, more people would be reading. I don’t know how to put it more succinctly than that. There are “must reads” and there are “read this nows”. Read this set of books now, you will crave more.

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