Wednesday, 17 December 2014

'If I Stay' (If I Stay #1) and 'Where She Went' (If I Stay #2) by Gayle Forman

I'm reviewing these two books in one because I actually read 'If I Stay' for the first time a year ago and I wanted to re-read it before I finally picked up the sequel, 'Where She Went'. I've wanted to read 'If I Stay' again since the movie came out, but I just didn't have time to get around to it back then, so I thought it would be a perfect read at Christmas, to remind me how lucky I am to have my family around me. If you're only interested in my 'If I Stay' review, just read the beginning, but if you're interested in my review of 'Where She Went' just scroll down a bit.

'If I Stay':

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

First of all can I just say that I have never seen anyone else with this book cover, ever? I've seen a couple of covers with girls, a blue cover with a leaf on the front and the movie edition, but I haven't seen this cover anywhere. I don't really like it - it has little blobs that I'm guessing from the context are supposed to be snowflakes, but look more like dandelion seeds, and they feel sticky, so I was convinced I'd spilt something on my book - but I got it in The Works for two pounds, so I can't really complain. That's just something that I couldn't get out of my head while reading this edition.
Furthermore, I don't know if this was only a problem with this edition, but there were SO. MANY. ERRORS. I can't remember it being a problem the first time I read it, which is why I think it might be this edition, but it was so damn frustrating that there were over ten noticeable grammatical errors, and it really took away from my enjoyment of the novel.
If you haven't read or heard of 'If I Stay', I don't really know where you've been, because the entire YA community went crazy when the film was released, but I'll give you a little recap just in case. 'If I Stay' tells the story of seventeen year old Mia Hall, who is in a terrible car accident with her parents and her little brother, Teddy. After finding out that her parents died instantly in the crash, and being unsure about Teddy's fate, Mia has to start coming to terms what her life will be like when, or if, she decides to stay alive instead of surrendering to death.
With this dealing with such sensitive subjects, it obviously is a really emotional novel, but I just found that throughout re-reading it I wasn't as connected with Mia as I felt the first time I read it. Maybe that's because I've already read it, so I know the outcome, or maybe it's because I only watched the film a couple of months ago and had a good cry, but I just felt glad when it was over and I could move on to the second book, so I didn't really feel as contemplative or thankful as I did the first time around. That kind of sucks, because it meant I didn't enjoy the book as much this time, but because it was such an amazing read the first time around I didn't really expect it to meet my original high regards, so that wasn't such of a disappointment.

'Where She Went':

*This review will contain spoilers!* 

I was so worried about reading 'Where She Went'. Probably why I ordered it to my library four months ago and have only just managed to bring myself to pick it up. I'd heard a lot of reviews saying that it wasn't as good as 'If I Stay' and a lot of people didn't recommend it, so I was one hundred percent convinced that I was going to be disappointed.
The surprise was, I totally wasn't.
'Where She Went' continues the story of Adam and Mia, three years after the end of the last book. We discover that after Mia went through rehab following the car accident, she decided to go to Juilliard and, quite brutally, stopped contact with Adam, breaking his heart. While Mia went to Juilliard, Adam mourned the loss of their relationship for a year before writing a kick-ass break up album, which sent his band, Shooting Star, into the stratosphere, selling out stadiums and arenas that held fifteen thousand fans. However, even with the smell of success surrounding him, Adam is discontent and angry at the world around him, hating everything that the band has brought into his life. Until he finds out that Mia is playing a concert in New York, the night before he has to fly to London for a sixty seven date tour...
The first thing that really struck me was how different Adam's voice was in contrast to Mia's voice throughout 'If I Stay', which is a real credit to Gayle Forman's writing. Adam's voice is so dark and depressing which is so different to Mia, who fluctuated between despair and confusion, but never really seemed to delve into the darkest corners of the situation that she was in. The opening chapters, with the interview in the restaurant that breaks down into chaos when Adam destroys the reporters recorder, really shows how bad everything has gotten for him, and it's intriguing to see him on the edge of a meltdown, really making us question everything that has gone on over the last couple of years. I automatically felt an extreme dislike towards Mia because of the pain she'd caused him - yes, she'd lost her entire family, but did she really need to force Adam out of her life too? - but around the half way point of the novel, once her and Adam eventually start talking, she gives us her reasons for pushing him away and escaping to New York and it was utterly impossible not to empathise with her. I was glad that they tackled the speech that Adam gave at the end of the first book; Mia disclosing that she could remember him asking her to stay and that that was what had caused her to deeply detest him was extremely emotionally charged, and the passion that still flowed between them was obvious in a not over-powering way. Sometimes novels like this force the love in your face too much and it becomes a drag, but the fact that we have no idea whether Adam or Mia will get back together or will just give up on their relationship until the very end of the novel really makes you push forward with reading it, desperate to know whether true love can be fixed, or if once something is broken it is truly irreparable.
The switching between flashbacks and current events that was prevalent in the first novel was also a focal point in this novel, and it was brilliant to see more of Adam and Mia's relationship before the car accident, something that wasn't so openly discussed in the first book. By hearing more about how they started, Adam's instant attraction towards Mia and how their love developed over the course of the two years that they were together, it was impossible not to root for them, and that was something else that Gayle wrote really superbly. A standout moment was Adam's reminiscing of their night out camping together, which demonstrated how utterly and completely safe Mia felt with Adam, and it was clever to have the juxtaposition of that scene alongside the scenes of Mia feeling awkward and uncomfortable throughout their reunion.
The main thing that I appreciated - no, adored - in this novel was how hard Adam had taken their break up. Oftentimes males in YA are written as inconsiderate and uncaring when dealing with break ups, as though it's impossible for guys to feel as emotionally distraught as the female characters are often portrayed as, so it was a refreshing change to see Adam drowning in the emotional turmoil that Mia had sprung upon him. Similarly, Adam being so bitter about the break up, and so unable to find closure, was also something that is unusual to find among males in the genre (unless I've just been reading the wrong books; if so, recommend some to me!) and instead of coming off as whiny and needy, it genuinely felt as though his whole world had been destroyed and he was struggling to forge a way through to the other side. Gayle is extremely talented at writing emotion, and I can't wait to pick up on of the other novels that she's written, because I genuinely believe that she might be one of my favourite YA authors at this point.
In all honesty, there wasn't anything that I disliked about this novel. While 'If I Stay' seemed aimed at a bit of a younger audience, despite the devastating car accident, it was good that in this novel there was a voice that seemed a bit older, almost verging on the New Adult genre, and I couldn't help but be drawn into the story. I'd definitely recommend this novel, despite the fact that a lot of people say it's not a very good follow up, because even though it's not dealing with issues that are as sensitive, it's still filled with raw emotion and genuinely gives you feelings for these characters, which is something that I don't find a lot of. 

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