Review: If I Stay (Book & Movie)

One of the movies I was really excited to see last year was the film adaptation of the book If I Stay by Gayle Forman. It’s not a very long book – it’s hardcover edition is only 201 pages long – but it’s story nonetheless packs a powerful punch.

Here’s the Goodreads summary for some background:

Choices. Seventeen-year-old Mia is faced with some tough ones: Stay true to her first love—music—even if it means losing her boyfriend and leaving her family and friends behind? Then one February morning Mia goes for a drive with her family, and in an instant, everything changes. Suddenly, all the choices are gone, except one. And it’s the only one that matters. If I Stay is a heartachingly beautiful book about the power of love, the true meaning of family, and the choices we all make.

*General Spoilers to Follow*

Going into it, I thought that this book was about death. The summary seemed straightforward enough and the title was certainly clear, but in reality this book is more about life and memory than it is about whether or not to live or die. It utilizes extensive flashback sequences to show Mia’s life and relationships, all the while keeping you tethered to the action happing after the accident. It surprised me as being way more than it even promised to be and I loved it for that reason and more.

If I Stay was heartbreaking and so painfully beautiful to read and I loved how it wasn’t really about life and death in the cleanest way, but about all the people in our lives and all the experiences that we have. They become a part of who we are and make our lives worth living, make our lives worth fighting for even in the darkest of times. It’s an important concept to acknowledge and one that’s incredibly difficult to do well through the lens of short fiction.

I expected the movie to be fairly similar to the book. Obviously some of the beautiful prose would be lost to film, but I anticipated a rather clean transition considering the limited quantity of original work to adapt. I wasn’t completely disappointed. For the most part, it was a pretty accurate adaptation. (The exception being that one scene of Mia and Adam in the boathouse. That is not how I expected that scene to happen.) However, the movie did lose some of the book’s depth. While the flashbacks were still utilized and important to the overall script, the central focus of the story was on the present day accident, something which I think cheapened the overall effect.

One thing that did adapt well was the musical theme. Mia’s entire story is woven with bits and pieces of music – her father’s old band, her rocker punk family friends, her cello, her boyfriend’s band – all of which translated excellently into film. Being able to hear Adam’s band play and actually listen to Mia practice for her Julliard audition made the musical theme that much stronger than it was in the book and I really enjoyed being able to experience that myself. The soundtrack also was really incredible, especially the stuff by Willamette Stone, and I’ve already added a few songs to my Spotify playlist.

Overall I thought it was an enjoyable movie. However, I was forced to mentally separate it from the book around halfway through. The two really cannot be compared and I firmly believe that they should be appreciated as two distinct pieces of work.

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