Facing Life-Changing Challenges and the Importance of Successful Decision-Making Skills.

Gayle Forman. If I Stay. New York, New York: Penguin Group, 2009.

If I Stay paperback.jpg Galye Forman’s intriguing and mystifying young adult novel, If I Stay, is the story of seventeen-year-old Mia as she contemplates the biggest decision of her life. Mia and her family, including her dad, mom, and younger brother Teddy, take a road trip on a peaceful Sunday morning to visit Mia’s grandparents across town. Amid typical family discussion and music A.D.D., Mia closes her eyes to relax once the classical music station begins to play throughout her family’s warm car. Suddenly Mia’s world is turned upside-down when the car that her and her family are travelling in is struck by a passing four-ton pickup truck. As Mia tries to make sense of the abominable accident that no one could have anticipated, she realizes she is able to walk around and witness the aftermath: the mangled bodies, the flashing lights of an ambulance, the hasty yet precise movements of the paramedics, and the unrecognizable car that moments before she had been comfortably reclining in.

“I don’t feel a thing…Wake up! I scream. Wake up! Wakeupwakeupwakeup! But I can’t. I don’t…Am I dead? I actually have to ask myself this. Am I dead?" (Forman, 15-16)

Mia is taken to a nearby hospital where she is hooked up to a breathing machine and begins to resemble an alien with what seems like a hundred different tubes and cords coming out of her bloody-mess of a body. Meanwhile, Mia continues to watch the events that unfold in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) room where she is being cared for and the waiting room where her extended family, friends, boyfriend, and other guests anxiously and emotionally wait to hear news of her condition. After Mia's grandmother and grandfather come to her bedside and talk to her seemingly lifeless body, Mia's nurse suggests something to "Gran" and "Gramps" that puts more pressure on Mia than she had ever expected: "You might think that the doctors or nurses or all this is running the show...Nuh-uh. She's running the show" (Forman, 69).

Suddenly, it hits Mia like the same four-ton pickup truck had hit her family's car: she is in charge of her own life.

Struggling with the most difficult decision young Mia has ever had to make, Mia gives the reader an insight into what she is thinking while she watches the world around her from a position she is not quite sure how to define: she is not dead, but she is not alive either. Mia's narration bounces back and forth with ease and little confusion between her life prior to the accident and her thoughts while in the unfathomable limbo-state she has found herself in.

"I've never toughened up enough to handle what I'd have to handle if I were to stay" (Forman, 183).

Gayle Forman's If I Stay plunges readers into a world that is neither real nor imagined, asking readers to momentarily suspend their beliefs and place themselves in Mia's position. Forman's novel explicates the intricate thought process of a teenager as they try to make tough decisions and focuses on the importance of family, regardless of if you are related by blood to said "family." Forman successfully portrays the mind of an adolescent battling between whether to do something for the sake of others or to do something for themselves. This novel is recommended to be taught in a secondary English classroom because of students' ability to relate to the main character, Mia. While most students will never have to decide whether or not to continue living without a family or to pass away, Forman's novel opens readers' eyes to the essential points that need to be considered when making major decisions. Students will be able to learn from Mia's decisions and rationale and connect with Mia and her friends as they all struggle with the decision-making process. Readers will experience the intricacy of decision-making and the affects of an individual's actions on those surrounding them as well as the importance of taking charge of one's own life.

“Graceful, imaginative, and haunting, If I Stay is both a page-turner and a gentle, satisfying read.” - Patricia McCormick, a National Book Award finalist for her book Sold.

“Compelling and highly textured….Laced with insight, good humor, and wonder….Mia’s story will engage readers willing to suspend their disbelief that the future can be seen in the present.” – Booklist

Recommendations for Teachers
Gayle Forman's novel If I Stay puts a unique spin on overcoming tough decisions, a challenge that most students face during their adolescent years. This novel should be taught in the classroom and can be paralleled with a lesson on relating to and overcoming the decision-making process. Alongside the main character Mia, the reader experiences all of the big decisions she has made in the recent past. Prior to the accident, Mia is faced with decisions such as choosing to enter into a relationship, go to summer camp, audition for Juilliard, and then whether or not she should attend Juilliard if accepted; these decisions are faced by teenagers all over the world. Incorporating this novel into a secondary classroom allows the teacher and students to discuss important decisions that the students may be currently facing. For example, if the novel were to be taught in a junior classroom, it would be a perfect way to discuss the challenges of choosing a college to attend or choosing their careers they wish to dive in to right out of high school. The teacher can incorporate activities into a lesson plan that assists in the decision-making process. Each student can write down a particular decision they are facing or choice they need to make and brainstorm solutions by creating their own decision making process. Students can then form groups and discuss their brainstorming process and the final conclusion they drew from it. If I Stay allows teachers to include a lesson on decision-making into their class while also giving students the opportunity to read a novel that is fun and engaging.

This novel could also be taught alongside a unit on loss. Hopefully students do not have to encounter the situation that the main character faces in the novel, the tragic loss of her father, mother, and brother, but a teacher could still use this young adult novel to inform students of the coping process. Loss may be experienced in several ways, including the loss of a family member, a break-up with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or the loss of a certain dream or goal, such as not getting accepted to a college of choice. Adolescents often experience some form of loss throughout their middle school and high school career and teaching If I Stay may help students better understand the steps they can take to deal with loss. This could be a good time for teachers to educate students on any support groups or services in the school that are offered to students dealing with loss.

About Gayle Forman
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This photograph was taken from

“Life might take you down different roads. But each of you gets to decide which one to take.” - Gayle Forman.

Gayle Forman was born on June 5, 1970 and currently resides in Brooklyn, New York with her husband and daughter. Forman's captivating writing style began during her teenage years and she soon started her writing career as a journalist for one of the top selling teen magazines, Seventeen Magazine, where she focused on young adult issues. Inspired by an article she wrote in her column, Forman wrote her first novel, Sisters in Sanity, in 2007. The driving force for her writing comes from her characters. Forman has said in an interview that she "allows these characters to speak through [her]. [Forman is] writing their thoughts and emotions." There is no doubt that her relatable writing style has touched young adults across the county, evident in her award of the 2009 New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) Book of the Year Award and 2012 Indie Choice Honor Award. Forman is currently in the process of writing a new young adult novel. For more updates on Gayle Forman visit her website.

Fun Facts about Gayle Forman:
  • Forman did not intentionally write the novel Where She Went as a sequal to If I Stay.
  • Forman says that the best part of being an author is being a stay at home mother for her children.
  • Forman enjoys Rock-n-Roll.
  • Forman is a huge Star Wars fan.
  • Forman's favorite reading genre is fiction.
  • Forman is more interested in vampires than werewolves.
  • Forman adopted two children named Willa and Denbele from Ethiopia.

In the following interview Gayle Forman talks about her background and what has inspired her to write If I Stay. Forman also explains the background and inspirations of several characters in the novel.

The song "Should I Stay or Should I Go" by The Clash is a play on words depicting a struggle to stay or go from the point of view of a lover. This song could be a great song for a soundtrack of If I Stay while Mia struggles to make the biggest decision of her life: to live or let go.

Yo-Yo Ma's "Back Cello Suit No. 1" is repeatedly talked about by Mia and her boyfriend Adam. Yo-Yo Ma is the performer Mia and Adam go to see on their first date and in the end this song was enough to bring Mia to her ultimate decision.

"One Sweet Day" by Boyz II Men featuring Mariah Carey will prove to be the emotional link between Mia and her family. Ultimately deciding to stay and live, Mia must carry on without her father, mother, and brother. This song describes how loved ones we have lost watch over us and that we will all meet again some day in Heaven.

In this book trailer, short clips of tantalizing questions that would be difficult for anyone to answer are shown. Mia has to answer these questions throughout the entire book.

Additional Resources:
  • Lesson Plan for Teaching the Decision Making Process - Utah Education Network: Lesson Plan and activity sheets on teaching the Decision Making Process.
  • The Decision Making Process - Displays outlines, diagrams, and additional information on how to go about making a tough decision.
  • Coping with Loss: The Grieving Process - The steps one can take to identify and deal with loss.
  • If I Stay: For Teachers and Students - A website of blogs and information for students and teachers interested in this novel.
  • If I Stay - The official website of Gayle Forman's If I Stay featuring an "About the Author" page and links to subsequent novels by Forman.
  • Making Tough Decisions - This article by Walt Mueller explicates the ways that an adult can help adolescents making life's most difficult decisions.
  • Helping Your Teen Prepare - Youth expert Nicole O'Dell's article focuses on ways to help teenagers prepare for the decisions they will face throughout life.
  • Six Most Difficult Decisions for a Teenager - Sean Covey discusses the six most difficult decisions that teenagers will be forced to make and helps parents, teachers, and friends decide when the appropriate time to step in and help is.
  • Life Choices - Buzzle.com successfully lays out in essay format coping strategies for life's tough decisions and answers the question, "How do you cope with the stress of making a difficult decision?"
  • Ten Tips for Coping with Loss - This website lists and explains ten tips for coping with loss, something that many people will have to deal with just as Mia does in Gayle Forman's If I Stay.
  • Where She Went - The Sequel - Forman continues the story of If I Stay in her next novel, Where She Went. The story she created is another compelling novel that allows the reader to find out about Mia's life after her big decision.
  • If I Stay Movie Trailer - This movie trailer serves as a visual aid for teachers to present to their students to help them connect to the characters and the story with hopes that reluctant students will begin to have a greater appreciation for the book.

--Kirstie Smith, Elizabeth Harris, Ben Kuzniar, Cecil Johnson.
(Additional reviews: Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher and Push by Sapphire)