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Books 129-130: If I Stay by Gayle Forman and Everlost by Neal Shusterman

Both of these YA novels open with a fatal car accident and are also linked by themes of linked to death and dying.

Book 129: If I Stay.
Author: Gayle Forman, 2009.
Genre: YA. Coming of Age. Death and Dying.
Other Details: Paperback. 272 pages.

"'Am I dead?'
I actually have to ask myself this."
- Mia

It begins as a very normal day for 17-year old Mia, a talented cellist. As it is a snow day there is no school and the family decides to take a morning drive. Then in an instant everything changes. Mia finds herself standing by the roadside and can see the mangled car and then finds the dead bodies of her parents. She looks for her little brother and approaching another body realises with shock that it is her own. The paramedics arrive and she is whisked to the hospital.

She remains an observer; aware of the surgeons who are working to save her life and of family and friends gathering outside her ICU room. Aware especially of her boyfriend Adam who is desperate to see her. During the next 24 hours Mia reflects upon her past and attempts to decide whether to fight to live or just to let go.

This book was beautifully written in a simple, elegant style. Gayle Forman handled the story with great delicacy, weaving the past and present into a heartbreakingly poignant story of loss, love and hope. I read this book not long after I'd finished The Hollow and felt that both books did an excellent job of addressing themes of death and grief for young adult readers with insight and sensitivity. It moved me very deeply.

'If I Stay' excerpt - on Gayle Forman's site.

Book 130: Everlost (Skinjackers Book 1) .
Author: Neal Shusterman, 2007.
Genre: YA. Death and Dying. Comedy-Fantasy Adventure.
Other Details: Paperback. 384 pages.

Although this novel has a similar opening to If I Stay, it is a very different style of book.

Teens Nick and Allie are travelling with their families when the cars are involved in a head-on collision. Nick and Allie don't survive the crash and find themselves in a dark tunnel moving towards a light. Nick bumps into Allie and they crash to the ground. They awaken some time later in a limbo between life and death that they learn is called Everlost. Only children and teens exist there (there is a reason given for this later in the story). It's a dangerous place, where bands of lost souls run wild and there are rumours of monsters that prey on the unwary soul.

Nick and Allie want their lives back, and their search for a way home will take them deep into the uncharted areas of Everlost. However, the longer they stay, the more they forget about their pasts. If all memory of their lives is lost, they may never escape this strange, terrible world.

Despite Nick and Allie being dead, this novels fits more into the category of comic fantasy adventure and certainly does not have the meditative solemnity or depth of If I Stay. I was quite impressed with the layout of Everlost. It was obvious that Shusterman had given a lot of thought into how it functions as a place in-between life and death. I was especially moved by the description of Manhattan where the twin towers are still part of the cityscape as they have become "a part of Everlost now, held fast, and held forever by the memories of a mourning world, and by the dignity of the souls who got where they were going on that dark September day. "

That passage brought a lump to my throat. I did laugh in many places as characters and situations proved both amusing and inventive. Although overall I enjoyed this book, I did feel that elements of its comedy were out of synch with other aspects. As it is the first in a trilogy I may need to read all three to get a real sense of the author's intentions. Still, while not all YA novels feel 'too young' for me as an adult reader, this one actually did.
Tags: adventure, award winner, bildungsroman/coming of age, fantasy, young adult
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