Having raced through Gayle Forman’s profoundly moving If I Stay, I immediately devoured the second book in the series, Where She Went. And that was it: I was hooked. My binge continued with Just One Day, Just One Year, and Just One Night, and finished (for now) with her courageous I Was Here.
There’s a lot that I love about these novels: They are packed with wisdom without a hint of preachiness. They are brimming with love without a drop of sentimentality. And they are refreshingly unpredictable. Instead of relying on those familiar devices one often sees in stories about love–the meet-cute, the hate-at-first-sight that turns into uncontrollable attraction, Forman gives us the messiness of real life, which rarely turns out the way we think it will.
What I also greatly admire are the elements of magic in her novels, not airy-fairy magic, but everyday magic in the form of happy accidents and serendipity that never feels cliche or contrived. Even out-of-body experiences such as Mia’s in If I Stay are delivered in a matter-of-fact sort of tone that says to me: ‘hey, this character is as stunned by what’s going on as you are, but stuff like this happens; so deal with it.’
Forman creates a stunning familiarity and resonance in all her protagonists’ stories, even when the circumstances are extraordinary. The characters are in their teens or early twenties, but the changes they experience, the self-reflection they resist and ultimately embrace, the search for identity, and ultimately, the self-revelation, are the hallmarks of the human search for happiness, and that is relevant at any age.
True love and what that means is at the core of all of Forman’s novels–what it is, what it looks like, what it’s not, and what one has to do to really commit to it and surrender to it. The journey may be hellish at times, but the victory is all the sweeter because of it.