Review: If I Stay

AUTHOR: Gayle Forman
SERIES: If I Stay, Book 1
PUBLISHER: Dutton Juvenile, Penguin Young Readers
PAGES: 199
SOURCE: My library
GENRE: Realistic

SUMMARY: After a fatal car accident kills her family and puts her in a coma, seventeen year-old Mia must decide whether she wants to stay (live) or go (die). As her broken body hovers between life and death, Mia’s soul roams the hospital hallways, listening to her grieving friends and family, remembering the past, and contemplating the possibility of a future without the people she loves most.

WHAT I LIKED: Engrossing and short. I read If I Stay in one sitting. It is easy to get involved in Mia’s life, and her struggle between life and death is understandable. My library girls love this book, and I have heard and read lots of positive reviews of the sequel, Where She Went.

If I were still teaching English, If I Stay would make a great book for class or reading group discussions. The ultimate question of whether Mia should stay or go is universal, the answer complex and varied from person to person. With some talk of angels and church, religion is a small component of the story, but Forman’s eloquent prose focuses mainly on Mia’s life and her decision to fight or let go. The characters’ religious faith ranges from Jewish to Christian to Atheism, and religious references remain generic. I like this because readers of different faiths (or no faith) will be able to appreciate Mia’s dilemma without getting caught up in the question of what does or does not happen if she chooses death.

WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE: First of all, let me say that I know that my thoughts here here will be controversial, and I get that. However, I owe it to my readers and myself to review books as honestly as I can, so here goes…

As a middle school librarian, I read language and sexual content with a critical eye. There are plenty of times that I recommend books to my students, even though there is a lot of mature content. I have lots of books on my middle school library shelves that I’m certain would raise plenty of eyebrows. But a good story is a good story, and sometimes that good story needs to include mature content. I myself read lots of mature content in middle school and handled it just fine, and so can most of my middle schoolers. If adults don’t make a huge deal out of mature content, then neither will the kids.

That said, I also sometimes question the inclusion of mature content. Language and sexuality definitely have their places in YA books, but I do not like to see either thrown in randomly, with no apparent purpose. It reminds me of sex and language included in a PG-13 movie simply to obtain an R rating. From a librarian’s perspective, it limits the book’s audience because I am less likely to recommend a book with a high level of mature content to a sixth grader than I am to an eighth grader.

My point in all this is, while the one make-out scene in the book goes with the story and helps develop two major characters, I believe much of the mature language in If I Stay is unnecessary, almost as though it is tossed in there to make it YA instead of MG. There is not a ton of mature language, but what is in there seems to come out of nowhere. I wish I could recommend If I Stay to my sixth graders in general; I know it would be a popular choice. I have lots of sixth grade girls asking me for books about teens facing serious issues, and Mia’s choice between life and death has universal appeal. If the language were a little milder or occurred less often, I would enjoy booktalking If I Stay with my sixth grade classes. Will I recommend it to lots of students? Absolutely; I really enjoyed the book. Can add it to my Lone Star Plus reading list or recommend it to everyone I would like to? I wish.


  • Language: Medium-high; see my thoughts above in “What I Didn’t Like”
  • Sexuality: Medium; one make-out scene early in the story
  • Violence: Mild; medical blood and gore (from accident itself and surgeries)
  • Drugs/Alcohol: Mild; some teen and adult drinking; Mia’s father smokes a pipe

STATUS IN MY LIBRARY: We have it, and it is somewhat popular.

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