If I Stay and Where She Went by Gayle Forman

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            There’s something to be said for heartbreaking good novels when, after finishing IF I STAY, I immediately picked up and finished WHERE SHE WENT in the same weekend.

Let’s start with IF I STAY, shall we? The premise was interesting enough: Mia, a seventeen-year-old cellist on the way to studying at Julliard, ends up in the ICU after being in a car accident that killed her parents and younger brother. However, Mia’s consciousness/spirit/otherworldly self is alive and well, and as she hears and observes her loved ones’ reactions to this devastating event, she must make a life-changing decision.

This could have been a depressing novel – and, let’s be honest, I found myself crying  throughout most of the book. But, I thought Forman handled the story with elegance, sensitivity, and humor in just the right places. This book is a love story, yes, but not just a love story between Mia and Adam. It is also a love story between parents and children, between siblings, and between friends. In short, I thought this book was a life-affirming story.

Now onto WHERE SHE WENT:

My first thought when reading the publisher’s blurb of WHERE SHE WENT was: what?! After all, while the ending of IF I STAY was vague, I had this entire ending imagined of Mia waking and she and Adam moving forward together.

Clearly, this was not the case.

WHERE SHE WENT picks up three years after IF I STAY. Mia and Adam are no longer together, and in fact are living on different coasts: she in New York pursuing her dream as a classical musician, he in Los Angeles as a rock-and-roll star. Adam’s band makes it big and he is in New York doing interviews to prepare for an upcoming tour in London. Then, in a moment that could only be described as fate (or found in movies such as Serendipity), Adam and Mia run into each other for the first time since ending their relationship.

The events in the book are told over the course of one day, and from Adam’s POV. I enjoyed the change in narration, if only because I wanted to get his perspective as to the fallout of his and Mia’s break-up. I also thought the narration change added a mystery that we as readers wanted to know: why did Mia end their relationship?

No doubt, the angst between Mia and Adam took center stage in the sequel. I thought that Forman did a wonderful job in not only answering why Mia ended their relationship in the first place, but also in developing Mia in such a way that made sense why she made the choices that she did. I also enjoyed the continued musical references, from Adam’s song lyrics to flashbacks of Mia’s music-inclined family. The ending of this book was a surprise, but seemed true to Mia and Adam’s characters.

Overall, IF I STAY and WHERE SHE WENT were heartfelt reads that left an impression on me long after I finished the books.

IF I STAY: 4 out of 5 stars

WHERE SHE WENT: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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