If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Summary: On a day that started like any other…

Mia had everything: a loving family, a gorgeous, adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music and full of choices. Then, in an instant, almost all of that is taken from her. Caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia spends one critical day contemplating the one decision she has left—the most important decision she’ll ever make. (Courtesy of author website).

My Thoughts: I had been reading many great reviews for this book before I finally decided to pick it up a few weeks ago from the library. It took me a long time to get around to it–mostly because it seemed like your typical post-tragedy YA novel, and I was never particularly in the mood for depressing emotions and contemporary moaning-and-groaning. And I just didn’t want to read something sad during my first few weeks of summer.

Well I was wrong. If I Stay was so far from your typical contemporary YA novel. It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is that Forman does so right other than “everything”. From the first page I was connected with Mia’s crazy but sincerely loving family, and not because my family is similar to hers, or that I’ve had the same experiences as they’ve had (in fact, far from it), but because Forman’s writing just does that to you. It’s simple and clean and perfect.

The whole novel takes place, like the summary says, in “one critical day”, but it’s a bit more than that. There are clear memories of Mia’s life before the accident interspersed with her present-day situation, and these transitions are handled and timed perfectly by Forman.

I highly recommend If I Stay to anyone who wants an absorbing, emotional read.

Author Website: http://www.gayleforman.com/
Apparently now there’s a sequel! Where She Went

We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates

Summary: The Mulvaneys are blessed by all that makes life sweet—a hardworking father, a loving mother, three fine sons, and a bright, pretty daughter. They are confident in their love for each other and their position in the rural community of Mt. Ephraim, New York. But something happens on Valentine’s Day, 1976—an incident that is hushed up in the town and never spoken of in the Mulvaney home—that rends the fabric of their family life.

As the years pass the secrets they keep from each other threaten to destroy them, but ultimately they bridge the chasms between them, and reunite in the spirit of love and healing. Rarely has such an acclaimed writer made such a startling and inspiring statement about the value of hope and compassion.

My Thoughts: My first exposure to Oates’ writing was with The Female of the Species, her short story collection. And I stopped about halfway through the book because I was too scared to keep reading. There are several reasons for this. Number one, I am a huge scaredy-cat. I never watch scary movies. Can’t handle it. Number two, Oates’ writing has this quality that I cannot describe except to say that at times it is too real. Too close for comfort. I have experienced this once before when I was unable to finish The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath for the same reasons. Too real–and thus it scared me.

We Were the Mulvaneys had a similar quality but less so, and I was so engrossed in the life of the characters that I was able to finish it. And I’m glad I did. Oates takes a tragedy and expands it, entrapping you in the story and making you desperate to find out what happens to everyone in the aftermath. And it’s definitely tragic. But also hopeful.

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

COVER her fearful symmetry by audrey niffeneggerRating: 7 out of 10
Release Date: September 29
Summary: When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers–with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.

The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including–perhaps–their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.

My Thoughts: I just finished reading my ARC of this novel today, and I had very high expectations because I loved loved LOVED The Time Traveler’s Wife by Niffenegger, and I was really looking forward to reading her next book. Thanks to her agents I was able to get an advanced copy.

It took me a little while to get started on this one, but Ms. Niffenegger has the ability to sort of just enmesh you and absorb you into whatever she is writing about at the moment. There was a lot of old Victorian imagery (the Highgate Cemetery in London, a very central part of this novel), kind of soft and grey, just a little bit romantic, even though the story starts on a funeral, and a lot of that mood just permeated majority of the beginning of the book, so much that when certain modern things popped up, such as Julia or Valentina mentioning Google Earth or anything else really now, I got a little surprised. That was how prevalent the mood was.

I feel like nothing really got started until the middle or the end, and most of the story was just meandering along, following the daily lives of the twins and their neighbors. I really liked the side characters, especially the neighbors: Martin, suffering from OCD, and his absent wife, Marijke. The Little Kitten of Death.

The trials and tribulations of the twins themselves, Julia and Valentina, didn’t really catch me as much. I was sympathetic to their problems, but the plot twists regarding their story, and their famiy’s story, did not especially affect me–a few times it was a little anticlimatic.

Her Fearful Symmetry was more of an ode or a literary devotion to Highgate Cemetery itself–it read like a fascinating place, and I’m sure if I ever visit I’ll be just like one of the clueless picture-taking American tourists that Niffenegger describes as Robert guides tours through the cemetry. Therefore it was less like a plotted novel, which I guess Time Traveler’s Wife was, it was so meticulously plotted and planned and…. anyway.

I wasn’t amazed, which is perhaps a little unfair because, like I mentioned before, I had such high expectations. It didn’t matter too much, because I just like reading the author’s writing… transportive. Some lines she writes really get me, they either describe in the perfect words something I’ve felt before and never could say myself, or present something new that I haven’t thought of before.

Ghostly romantic… and lovely writing.

The Rules of Survival by Nancy Werlin

Rating: 6 out of 10
Summary: It all starts when Matthew observes a heroic scene in a convenience store: A man named Murdoch puts himself between an abusive father and his son. Matt is determined to get to know this man. And when, amazingly, Murdoch begins dating Matt’s mother, it seems as if life may become peaceful for the first time.

Matt and his sisters have never before known a moment of peace in a household ruled by their unpredictable, vicious mother. And so, after Murdoch inevitably breaks up with her and the short period of family calm is over, Matt sees that he needs to take action. He refuses to let his family remain at risk. Can he call upon his hero, Murdoch? And if not, what might his desperation lead him to do? From Barnes&Noble.Com

Commentary: Pretty in-depth Young Adult novel. Presents the complexity of abuvsive parents pretty well. Matthew was an interesting narrator and the novel in the format of a letter or narrative to his little sister was a good idea.

Mmm, not much else to say. Nice hero.