Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Should I stay or should I go?

I wonder if it was this article in the Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago that resulted in all the holds that are currently on Gayle Forman's If I Stay at my library. Or perhaps it was Entertainment Weekly? Whatever is taking readers there, it's a good thing. Listeners won't find it too shabby either. Our heroine, Mia, who seems to"have it all" (hip, loving parents who don't mind that she has sex with her punk rocker boyfriend, a budding music career of her own playing the cello at the Juilliard School), loses everything one snowy morning in Oregon. A truck plows into her family's car killing her parents and younger brother (that's actually a spoiler ... sorry!) and grievously wounding her. Over the next day, Mia's essence (soul?) separates from her body and watches her hospital care and the stricken love of her relatives and friends. As she reflects on her brief life, Mia ultimately realizes that the decision to stay is hers alone.

Definitely a tear-jerker, but also an entertaining teen romance (there's kind of a racy bit in here), If I Stay is rescued from those tired genres by Mia's voice. She's honest, funny and knows how to tell us a good story: her romance with Adam, the birth of her much younger brother, how she connected with her best friend, how she became a cellist. By the end of the brief novel, we know Mia very well, and are -- of course -- deeply invested in her decision.

It is Mia's voice that makes this such a good audiobook. With her voice in your ears, the sentiment, sadness and -- yes -- humor all become so immediate. She's confiding in us -- we are, after all, the only people who can hear her. Her confidences become so much more touching when you hear someone else's voice (besides your own) relate it. Some books just thrive on audio and this is one of them.

The narrator is Kirsten Potter, who I heard read Madapple last year. She's extremely skilled and isn't afraid to read with emotion. If she sounds a little adult to me, I think that's a small quibble. She seems utterly invested in Mia's story and wants to tell it to us.

Another highlight of this audiobook is the music. According to the book's website, the cello music is original to the audiobook, composed by John Bauers. (What's odd is that I didn't hear him credited on the audiobook ... hmmm?) A brief squib of solo cello music starts and ends every disc and I also heard it quietly underneath one portion of the book's text -- in the part where Mia is describing how she became a cellist. It's delightful to hear.

This book takes place in an unnamed small college town in Oregon, which always makes my ears perk up. It seems to be fairly close to Portland, so I set the novel in Monmouth in my head. I was surprised to learn that Gayle Forman lives in Brooklyn, because she sure knew Portland. No generic city locations for her! She had Mia visit the Roseland Theatre, the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and the Hawthorne Boulevard hipster shopping area. Plus, she gave a shout-out to the Portland Cello Project. On the book's website, Forman says she was partially inspired to write this by Oregon. You are welcome back anytime, Gayle! Be sure to drop by the library!

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