‘If I Stay’
I started reviewing because I was doing a course at Uni that required that you actually submit writing to publications in order to pass. I was 20, naive, and didn’t feel like I had anything I had the expertise to write about. Plus, I hated the idea of looking up magazines, writing pitches, receiving rejections. It was more than my delicate ego could handle.
Reviewing, though, that was something I could do, and someone pointed me in the direction of a website that was looking for reviewers. I reviewed a book, submitted it to them, got accepted and started receiving books from them. I was able to submit loads of things with minimum effort and terror. Plus I got free books.
And it turned out to be a great love. I’m not a serious book blogger like some people, but I love the steady trickle of books I receive – things I wouldn’t have read otherwise, introducing me to authors I wouldn’t have otherwise heard of, and it keeps the Boyfriend happy, because I don’t have to spend anything to feed my reading habit!
One of my early memories of reviewing was being sent If I Stay by Gayle Forman. I had to still be in Uni at the time, because I remember reading it in my horrible Uni cot bed, so I had been reviewing for less than a year, a year at most. It was an exciting book to receive, because it was an ARC copy. I hadn’t really had many of those before, so I was still in that period of getting exceptionally excited when I got sent something ahead of publication. (Truth be told, I still get excited now).
I remember tucking myself in to my cot bed (it was on these awful metal feet that used to slide across my carpet so easily, every time I sat up in bed to read, pillow pressed against the damp wall to stop my back aching so much, it used to start moving, until eventually I had to get out of bed and push it back against the wall. It wasn’t the best for reading.) and getting as comfortable as I could, settling down to read.
I was crying within about three pages.
And I don’t cry at books. The Fault in our Stars put a lump in my throat, but no more.
There was something about Forman’s writing that was so romantic and wonderful and sad, and I devoured the book in a single sitting, feeling emotionally drained and heartbroken and uplifted at the same time now.
It probably wouldn’t have quite the same effect if I read it for the first time now. It happened to coincide with a time in my life when the themes about separation from loved ones were particularly relevant. I was staying away from home for the first time, missing the Boyfriend terribly, and still in the throes of young, all consuming love. Well, as close as the real life equivalent gets. Mia’s relationship with Adam was an echo of my own – the distance about to be enforced by their diverging paths, and their fight to stay together through it resonated with me, elevating the sadness of the story to a whole new level.
It was a pretty sad story anyway, asking some really challenging questions for a YA book, where what I’d read in the genre at the time was largely concerned with how the main character would ever pluck up the courage to kiss the hot vampire. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course, I’m a sucker for that sort of thing!)
If I Stay showed me what YA could really be. Moving, powerful, challenging and affecting. It remains one of my favourite books to this day.