Make time to listen to If I Stay

If I Stay by Gayle Forman, narrated by Kirsten Potter; produced by Listening Library; distributed by Listening Library/Books on Tape, 2009; 4 CDs, 4:48 hours.

Mia’s life seems to be defined by dichotomies: punk rock or classical music; West Coast (family and friends) or East Coast (Julliard); family love or romantic love?  A family drive on a snowy morning ends with her biggest choice: life or death?  As she observes her current situation in an out-of-body experience, Mia reflects on the past and present while deciding on her future.  What will happen if she decides to go?  Or, what if she chooses to stay?

It’s been a very long time since I’ve listened to an audiobook.  The last young adult title I listened to was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie.  I didn’t enjoy it.  Others I’ve listened to had too many characters to keep track of or were poorly narrated.  So, why choose an audiobook now?  Well, the weather’s been atrocious here, I was out of books in my queue, so I downloaded an audio title from my local library.  Best choice I’ve made in a long time!

Kirsten Potter becomes the narrator, Mia, immediately.  I often forgot that I was listening to a narrator because I felt like I was sitting with Mia, listening to her tell me how she made her decision.  Potter is perfection: her use of slightly different accents and pitch helped me distinguish who was speaking without detracting from the narrator’s voice.  It was like a conversation with a friend, you know, when you imitate voices for dramatic effect.  In addition, the use of cello interludes helped identify important moments in the story and offered a reminder about Mia’s true passion.

Now, all the perfection of the audiobook would be moot without a wonderfully written story.  Forman’s exploration of life’s dichotomies is never maudlin but always touching.  What makes a family?  Why do we make certain choices in life?  Do we always have a choice?  And yet, all the depth of the theme never feels like a burden on the storytelling.  I also noticed that the author involves all of the reader’s senses–or listener’s, in this case.  Her character descriptions created vivid images, I could feel the agony of Mia’s choices and I found I could even smell the hospital.  Because of the descriptions, and because the story has a very strong audio component, listening to the story rather than reading it was a perfect choice.

I have to confess that I have not physically cried while reading a book in a very, very long time.  I feel emotional, I even think, “Wow, this is sad.”  Or I tell people that the book made me cry even though it only made me think of crying.  But I have not cried.  Until this book.  The crescendo of the story had tears streaming down my face.  With earbuds in, I must have been quite a sight!

If I Stay will be with me for a very long time.

4p     4Q     Grade Level: 9-12

Cover Art: I downloaded the title from my local library, so I only saw the art that appears here.  The image of the last leaf ready to fall captures the story perfectly, but without knowing what it’s about, the cover may seem too abstract.

From Reading List: Amazing Audio Books for Young Adults

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