If I Stay by Gayle Forman is a stunner. This book was originally released in 2009 by Dutton Children's, an imprint of Penguin. I listened to the audio version and finished it while stuck in bridge traffic headed to Cape Cod. I was such a soupy face afterwards, tears dribbling all over. I glanced around and everyone was in their cars, probably half irritated by the traffic and half "YAY CAPE COD!" And I looked like I had just had a very sad experience. Well, I did.
SPOILER ALERT. You find out the gist of the story very early on, but if you want to be surprised, don't read further. Although I imagine this book has already been widely read, I just didn't get around to it until now.
Mia is a promising cello player, on the cusp of getting into Julliard. Her punk-rock-turned-teacher-dad, tough-but-sweet mom, and ebullient little brother are all excited at the idea of a rare snow day and after breakfast, they go for a drive.
They get in a horrific accident. Mia has an out-of-body experience and sees her parents, dead and broken, on the pavement. (There is a reference to Mia seeing "what looked like cauliflower" on the pavement and realizing it is parts of her father's brain. Really.) It is not immediately clear what happened to Mia's brother. Mia realizes she's out of her body and goes with herself to the hospital.
Interspersed in the story are bits of Mia looking back on her life. For example, her friend Kim comes to visit her in the hospital and we get to learn how they became friends. However, a huge focus of Mia's remembrances are that of her musician boyfriend, Adam. Their whole story is beautiful but not saccharine.
The point of the story is that Mia must decide if she will stay and live out a very different life, or if she will die. It is poignant and sad and she has to weigh some tough choices...Adam and her friends and extended family versus going gently into that good night.
I like this story because it is realistic and mostly plausible, and it shows a family that is together, a strong network of family members and friends, and characters you can root for. I am looking forward to listening to the sequel and reading more of Forman's work. If I Stay is also going to be made into a movie.
Highly recommended, but have some tissues nearby, even in the car.