In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make.

Where has this book been all my life?

The rather short synopsis for If I Stay is not purposefully vague. It tells you all you need to know. However, it doesn’t  tell you everything; namely, how you will feel while reading this book.

The feelings and emotions this book evoked in me are almost undescribable. This is truly one of the best-written books I have ever read, and it’s not just because the writing is technically correct, or because all punctuation is properly placed. No, the reason why this book is one ofthe best I’ve ever read is because I connected, totally and completely, with the characters. If I Stay made me laugh, cry, grieve, and rejoice in equal measure, and most of all, left me wanting more.

Mia Hall had it all. A supportive, loving family, loyal best friend, gorgeous boyfriend who was crazy about her, and a promising future as a supremely talented cellist. In one moment, on a snow day in Oregon, all of that is stripped away in the swerve of tires, the crunch of metal, and the deafening silence of the aftermath.

Through a series of present- and past-tense narrations, we dig deep into Mia’s character. Through her eyes, we see “the accident” that took her family and left her in a coma, and we learn about those left behind: her family and friends, and the incredible, all-encompassing bond they share. At the end of the story, I desperately wished that the Hall family were part of my own. The character development in If I Stay left me breathless and in awe of Gayle Forman. Never have characters felt more real to me than they did in this story.

Mia’s parents are laid-back, loving, supportive, and totally cool. Her little brother, Teddy, is a cute little rascal who has a sweet connection to his big sister. Even her Grandma and Grandpa are involved in her life, tender and loving and honest. Mia’s friends are not justfriends; they are an extension of her family. An imperfect part of a perfect circle. As she reflected on her memories of and relationships with each of these people, I felt like I knew them. I could chat with her best friend, Kim, over a Mocha Frappuccino, or hang out with her boyfriend, Adam, at the House of Rock. I could have a friendly debate with Mia’s mom over evolution vs. creationism, or spin Sinatra records with her dad.

While “the accident” is a central part of the story, If I Stay is not a “sad” book. Through Mia’s flashbacks, we are privy to the intimate inner workings of her family and friendships, and there are quite a few “laugh out loud” moments that will leave you grinning from ear to ear. These moments are what make this book so beautifully poignant and heart-wrenching.

Another aspect I loved about this book is Mia’s connection to music. She is a very skilled cellist, well on her way to a full scholarship at Juilliard when “the accident” flips her world upside down. Her boyfriend, Adam, is also a talented musician whose band’s popularity is on the upswing. His love for her is exquisite and breath-taking. Two very different people with one common interest. In each other, they discover that music is the one universal truth. It connects people from all walks of life, even if they can’t speak the same language, or have the same life experiences.

If I Stay is a powerful story on, as Peter S. Beagle once wrote so eloquently, “the lift of longing and the crash of loss.” It’s about the unbreakable bonds of family, the tenderness of first love, the loyalty of soul friends, and most of all, the unpredictability and fragility of life.

I will always count If I Stay among my most favorite stories, and I hope you will, too. Please, dear reader, read this book.