If I Stay by Gayle Forman


if i stay
Seventeen-year-old Mia has everything: a promising career as a cellist, awesome former-punk parents that really get her and her music, and best of all, an understanding alterna-rock boyfriend who is the yang to her yin. Then one day on a routine drive near their home, her family is involved in a terrible car accident. Mia’s life is nearly lost. Now treading a fuzzy comatose line between life and death, Mia has to decide whether she wants to give up and let go or stay and fight. As the minutes tick by during the the longest day of Mia’s life, she mentally contemplates the consequences of either choice. Friends and relatives move in and out of her hospital room and her memory, each one weighing in on Mia’s decision, whether they know it or not. As the dawn breaks the day after her accident, Mia finally decides what she wants to do. Then one last person speaks, and everything changes once again…you may think you’ve read this story before, but you haven’t. Not the way Gayle Forman tells it, in an unsentimental and sincere way that may remind you of certain other well-crafted weep-tastic reads on this list, but which has a unique style all its own. Best of all are Forman’s characterizations, especially of Mia’s punk rock parents, who remain realistically cool for adults, despite their suburban trappings. You won’t want to miss this evocative tearjerker, which will soon be a movie directed by former Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke. (2 weepies)

Would You by Marthe Jocelyn

would you

“Would you rather have your father sing at the supermarket or your mother fart in the principal’s office?”

“Would you rather lose all your hair or all your teeth?”

“Would you rather know what’s going to happen or not know?”

Natalie and her friends play the “Would you…” game all the time, with the highest marks going to the grossest or grimmest options. In fact, it’s just after they’ve been sitting around shooting the “would you” bull on a perfect summer night when Natalie gets the call that changes everything. Natalie’s older sister Claire has been hit by a car. She’s in a coma and it doesn’t look good. Now all Natalie can do is wait. Her life has slowed down to moments that pass like eons while she waits for Claire to either wake up, or…the alternative is impossible to imagine. “Would you rather die or have everyone else die?” Who is Natalie without Claire? Not only doesn’t Natalie know the answer to that terrible question, she’s sure she doesn’t want to find out. Marthe Jocelyn paints an incredibly intimate portrait of a family responding to a crisis. Grieving turns out to be heartbreaking and sometimes even heartbreakingly funny. The dialogue between Natalie and her posse is so crisp and real it feels like Jocelyn has somehow been party to the conversations that flew around your own rec. room on a slow Saturday night. If you only read one book before you go back to school this fall, I would rather it be this one. (2 weepies)

Cures for Heartbreak by Margo Rabb

cures for heartbreakIf she dies, I’ll die. But here we were.” Mia’s mom dies suddenly of a fast moving cancer after just twelve short days in the hospital. And even though Mia can’t imagine life without her, the rest of the world just keeps movin’ on, forcing Mia to cope whether she wants to or not. And it’s not easy. First, there’s the funeral to get through, officiated by Rabbi Elvis, who arrives in Ray-Bans and sporting a very hairy chest. Then there’s dealing with her crabby, sarcastic sister, her moping, depressed dad, and the nightmare that is school, where no one seems to understand that World History is meaningless when her own history has been altered forever. Not to mention the condoms she finds in her dad’s shaving kit less than a year after her mother’s death. He couldn’t possibly be…? Oh, gross! Mia keeps looking for the self-help book, What to Do When Your Mother Dies from Melanoma, Which They Thought Was a Stomachache at First, but it doesn’t seem to exist. To make it through this bleak time, Mia is going to have to learn how to help herself, and how to accept help from others. Margo Rabb, whose own mother died when she was a teen, manages to effectively capture the moments of both absurdity and pain that accompany the loss of someone close. This book moved me to both laughter and tears, and I especially enjoyed Mia’s description of her Queens neighborhood–between the 46th and 52nd Street stops on the 7 train–which was also my neighborhood when I first moved to NYC! And if you want another sad story of parental passing, try Grief Girl: My True Story by Erin Vincent. 1 weepie.

Before I Die by Jenny Downham

before i dieSixteen-year-old Tessa Scott has incurable leukemia. She is going to die, probably before next spring. “It’s really going to happen…I really won’t ever go back to school…I’ll never go to college or have a job…I won’t travel, never earn money, never drive, never fall in love or leave home or get my own house. It’s really, really true.” But Tessa isn’t about to take the matter of death lying down. Instead, she composes a list of all the things she wants to do before the cancer takes her. Have sex. Spend a day saying nothing but “yes” to every question she’s asked. Shoplift. Try drugs (besides the kind she takes for her cancer treatment). Drive a car. And maybe, if she’s lucky, fall in love. Meanwhile, her surrounding family and friends each struggle with their own feelings about Tessa’s impending death: her desperate father, who spends his days searching the Internet for alternative therapies; her distant mother, who copes by pretending everything is alright; her little brother Cal who fusses over her one moment and taunts her the next; her best friend Zoey, who manages to be both selfish and supportive; and finally, her next-door-neighbor Adam, who, in the last months of Tessa’s life, unexpectedly becomes the love of her life. But no matter how much they all care about her, Tessa will have to finish the list–and her life– on her own. My adolescent friends, I never thought I would find the book that could knock my much beloved and oft-read copy of Norma Klein’s sob-inducing Sunshine (also on this list) out of the top tearjerker spot in my heart. But Before I Die has done it. Like Sunshine, it’s not sappy, corny, or saccharine. It’s just a very clear-eyed, realistic portrayal of what it means to die young, and how it feels to die from this particular disease. Downham pulls no punches, she takes you with Tessa right to the very end, an ending that you won’t forget, now or ever. To heck with the box of tissue, you’re gonna need stock in Kleenex to finish this one. But believe me, I’m not crying when I say this is one of the best books of 2007! (4 weepies)

Wrecked by E.R. Frank

WreckedOne of the saddest things human beings endure is death of a loved one. While the idea of our own death may frighten and sadden us, living through the death of someone else, someone close to us, is the saddest thing of all. So imagine Anna’s pain when she awakes from the horrific car accident she was in with her friend Ellen to discover that Ellen is alive—but the girl in the other car, the car that hit them—that girl is dead. That girl was Cameron Polk. Anna’s brother’s girlfriend. Now Anna is questioning everything about herself and her life. The accident wasn’t her fault, but will she ever be able to think of herself as anyone but the girl who killed Cameron? And what must her brother be feeling? Does he hate her? How can he not? Thoughts like these whirl through Anna’s head constantly after the accident, and if she tries to drive or hears someone scream, she immediately finds herself brought right back to that terrible night. With the help of a caring therapist named Frances, Anna discovers she has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Frances introduces Anna to a new kind of therapy called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) which allows Anna to internally watch movies of her life stream by and she just has to notice how those memories tie into her feelings about the night of the accident, her brother, and somewhat surprisingly, her feelings about her domineering father. As Anna makes her long journey back from that night, she discovers that there is so much more to her and her relationships with her family and friends than she ever imagined. This is a story of immense grief. But it is also a story of redemption, love and hope, the way only one of my all time fav authors E.R. Frank can tell it. “Mostly you realize you can handle it. You’d rather turn it upside down and dump it out…You’d rather do that, because you don’t want to have to handle it…But you do handle it. Because the thing you learn is that you can.” (2 weepies)

A Time for Dancing by Davida Wills Hurwin

A Time for DancingSamantha and Julie aren’t just best friends; they’re soul mates. They’ve been having sleepovers and dancing ballet together since they were little. So when Julie gets cancer, it feels like it’s happening to Samantha, too. Told in alternating chapters from both friends’ point of view, this book not only provides a frighteningly real picture of what it is like to watch your best friend go through hell, but also what it is like to experience first-hand through Julie’s eyes the stages of loss–fear, denial, hope and finally painful acceptance that life may be ending just as it is supposed to be beginning. This is a step up from Lurlene McDaniel’s soapy series books about terminally ill teens. This is a story with such real characters and feelings that it almost feels like you’re losing Julie, too–just when you’re starting to get to know and love her. (4 weepies)

Love, Sara by Mary Beth Lundgren

Love, SaraSara knows what it’s like to be an outsider. After all, she’s been in foster care most of her life and has just recently become part of a family that she loves and hopes will adopt her. It helps that her best friend Dulcie is also adopted and knows what it feels like. The two of them share everything, including their low-key status at school. But all that changes when the star of the football team suddenly notices Dulcie’s quiet beauty. Soon Dulcie’s caught up in a hot romance, leaving her best friend in the dust and Sara finds herself alone–again. But when Dulcie gets pregnant and she and her boyfriend are turned out by their parents, Sara is the only person that Dulcie can turn to. But can Sara convince Dulcie that the final solution she and her boyfriend have planned to escape their problems isn’t tragically romantic or terribly beautiful, but just plain selfish suicide? Told in many different formats, including emails, Sara’s journals and stories, and news articles, this book is a fast-paced weepie with a devastating ending that will leave you with your mouth hanging open and tears in your eyes. (3 weepies)

Sunshine by Norma Klein

sunshineAn oldie (first published in 1974, and now, sadly out of print) but still an amazingly effective weepie. Kate is a happy, hippie teenage mom back in the 70’s whose into peace, love and cute guitar players (like her adorable boyfriend Sam). He’s not the father of her sunny baby Jill, but he acts like it. Their lives are full of good friends, funny stories and songs, even though they’re super poor and Sam makes all their “bread” by playing in a bar. Then Kate falls down one day while giving Jill a bath–her leg just stops working. When she gets it checked out, she discovers she has a rare type of terminal bone cancer. Now Kate has a terrible decision to make–take brutal chemotherapy treatments that leave her nauseous and weak and may only extend her life by a few months, or ditch all the treatments and use the feel-good time she has left to be a real mom to her baby. Based on a true story of a young mother who used a tape player (pre-Camcorder-times) to record messages for her daughter to listen to after she was gone, Sunshine is one of my most favorite weepies ever because of Kate’s sincere, true voice and her Zen-like attitude about her own death. This is one I read over and over, wishing with all my heart that the ending were different. (4 weepies)

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Lovely BonesThis may be the most unusual weepie I’ve ever read. At the beginning of the story, 14 year old Susie Salmon is already dead. She’s just been brutally murdered by a quiet serial killer in her 1970’s neighborhood, and now she’s in heaven watching the results of her death unfold down on earth. It’s painful for her to see her younger sister become older than Susie ever will, her parent’s marriage start to disintegrate as they grieve for her, and the first boy she ever kissed begin to grow up and forget her. Maybe worse is seeing Mr. Harvey, her murderer, continue to live contentedly in the house a block away from her parents, as the search for her killer tapers off and is finally closed. Susie finds that heaven doesn’t mean eternal happiness. But it helps that whatever you imagine becomes part of your own personal heaven, and for Susie, that means an ornate gazebo, a high school that is all extracurricular activities and no studying, and a gazillion dogs to play with and cuddle whenever she wants. Susie is terrified that her family will forget her. But until they learn to let her go they will never be healed. And neither will Susie. A contemplative weepie that will make you think and cry and then think some more. (3 weepies)

Hanging On to Max by Margaret Bechard

Hanging On to MaxSam Pettigrew is practically the only guy at his high school. That’s because it’s a special school for teen parents, and most of his classmates are girls. But Sam’s ex-girlfriend, Brittany decided that she couldn’t deal with a baby, so Sam, who couldn’t bear to see Max go live with strangers, decides to become both mom and dad. He strikes a hard bargain with his own single-parent father–Sam’s dad will help pay for Max’s needs so Sam can stay in school, but then super smart Sam has to sacrifice any hopes of college and engineering to work full-time with his dad to pay him back after he graduates. It’s incredibly hard being a full-time parent and student. Between classes and teaching Sam to drink out of a cup and get to sleep at a decent hour, there’s no time for friends, movies, or just plain relaxing. Sam is on 24 hours a day and it’s starting to catch up with him. When he lets his guard down for a minute, Max ends up in the emergency room, and Sam finally starts to question his choice. Was it really better to hang on to Max? Or should he have let him go to people who were more ready than he was to be a parent? This one you may read right up to the very last page without crying, but that last page is a killer. I started sobbing right on the subway.(1 weepie)

Girlhearts by Norma Fox Mazer

GirlheartsEven though she and her mother are poor and live in a trailer, Sarabeth Silver is one happy camper. She has a great network of caring best friends, and her young mom (who had Sarabeth as a teenager) is like a sister, best friend and guardian angel all rolled into one. Then it all falls apart (like you knew it would–why else would it be on the tearjerker list??) Sarabeth’s mom, only 30 years old, dies suddenly from a freak heart attack, and just like that, all the light leaves Sarabeth’s life. Now she’s forced to stay with her mother’s best friend in a one-room apartment, where there’s no room for her between the woman’s hostile husband and their new baby. Confused and angry, Sarabeth feels completely trapped–until she remembers what her mother tried to forget–the family that disowned them both when they found out her mom was pregnant with Sara. Sarabeth has relatives that she’s never met, and perhaps a hopeful future, if she’s brave enough to go looking for it. (If you want to get to know Sarabeth from the beginning, read the prequel to Girlhearts, called Silver by Norma Fox Mazer, another of my favorite books. But you don’t have to read Silver first to love and cry over Sarabeth and her loss) (2 weepies)

Bringing Up the Bones by Lara M. Zeises

Bringing Up the Bones The only thing Bridget Edelstein ever wanted, more than a better relationship with her prima donna mother or perfect skin or a car that always started on cold mornings, was to be her best friend Benji’s girlfriend. So when she finally attained her goal and tasted the pure nirvana that was Benji’s kiss, it was incredibly crushing when he broke up with her to go to college across the country, but even more so when she heard he had been killed instantly in a car accident. Overwhelmed with grief, Bridget takes a year off from college, papers the walls of her studio apartment with pictures of Benji, and only leaves to go to her job as a waitress at an incredibly depressing truck stop. Enter Jasper, a very cute guy who gets off on wooing damsels in distress. Bridget thinks she might love him, except that Benji’s ghost keeps getting in the way. But when evidence surfaces that makes Bridget aware that perhaps Benji wasn’t the amazing person she thought he was, she wonders if its time to sever all romantic ties and get to know and love Bridget, first.A fantastic introspective weepie by the winner of the Delacorte Press Prize for a First Young Adult Novel, this story is all about character development. So if you one of those readers who is all about plot, this may not be the weepie for you. (1 weepie)