If I Stay | Study Guide

Gayle Forman

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Course Hero. (2019, July 26). If I Stay Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved August 11, 2022, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/If-I-Stay/

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Course Hero. "If I Stay Study Guide." July 26, 2019. Accessed August 11, 2022. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/If-I-Stay/.


Course Hero, "If I Stay Study Guide," July 26, 2019, accessed August 11, 2022, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/If-I-Stay/.

If I Stay | Themes



Much of the book takes place in Mia Hall's mind while she is in a coma, her memories swirling around her. She has to make a choice whether to live or die, and she is considering her options. While people try to influence her decision, the choice is hers alone. When Nurse Ramirez first appears, she tells Mia's grandparents that Mia is running the show. This means that, no matter what the doctors or nurses do, Mia won't live unless she wants to. It's her decision to make. "If I stay," Mia thinks, "If I live. It's up to me." Mia wonders how she can possibly decide. How can she stay without her parents or leave without Teddy and Adam?

Mia's choice is a metaphor for all the choices teens make as they grow up. Forman shows this by focusing on the other big choice Mia must make. She has to decide whether to stay in Oregon with her family and Adam or go to school in New York to pursue a career in music. With both choices, she wishes that someone would make the choice for her. If she doesn't get into Juilliard, she can stay with Adam. She realizes, though, that she wants to go. If she gets in, she won't turn down Juilliard. It is her choice to make, no one else's.

Similarly, it is Mia's choice whether to live or die. Mia's friends and family and the nurses are rooting for her to live. Her grandfather, despite his desire for her to live, gives her permission to die. Forman keeps the reader in suspense right up until the end when Mia wonders what she is waiting for. However, in the end, as with Juilliard, Mia knows what she wants. Even though her choice is an excruciating one, she knows what to do.

Different Types of Family

Right before the accident, Mia is on a morning car trip with her family, and she thinks about how happy it makes her: "I ... [am] happy to be in a warm car with my sonata and my family." Unlike many teens who have rocky relationships with their family, Mia genuinely enjoys being with her cool parents and adoring little brother. When her parents and brother are killed in the accident, she is devastated. She wonders how she will ever move on. It can be difficult for anyone to lose their parents, but Mia gets along so well with hers that it is an even greater loss.

Throughout the book, Mia remembers her loving family, but she is also presented with examples of other types of family. These include her boyfriend, Adam, and her friend, Kim. Willow, her parents' friend, tells Adam that he and Kim will be more important to Mia than ever. He believes it and brings his entire band and a famous rock star to the hospital to visit. Adam and Kim, who have never really liked each other, work together to help Mia. This is what families do.

When Mia went to orchestra camp, she missed her family terribly. She didn't know anyone but was absorbed into a family of musicians. Forman's portrayal of the orchestra camp, Adam's band, and Mia's father's band, show that someone who plays an instrument and is willing to share will always have family. Near the end of the book, Kim visits Mia in the hospital. She brings a list of everyone who has visited Mia and everyone who wants to visit her. There's not enough room for all of them. She tells Mia that some of the people in the waiting room are related to Mia and some aren't. Finally, she whispers to Mia, "You still have a family."

Music and Harmony

Music is a constant presence in Mia's life and in the story. When Mia gets into the car with her parents, they argue about what to listen to on the car stereo. Mia wins and gets to listen to her sonata. Moments later, when the car is involved in a devastating crash, the sonata is still playing. Mia's body is on the roadside somewhere, but her soul finds comfort in fingering the notes on an imaginary cello.

Mia's cello is presented as a character in the book. It has human qualities—Mia thinks she sees it breathing. When her immediate family is killed in an accident, Mia still has her cello. She still has ambitions of going to New York and studying cello at Juilliard. This ambition is what wakes her up. When Adam plays the music in Mia's ears in the hospital, she sees a vision of herself with her cello on the streets of New York. This is what makes her open her eyes.

Music is what makes Mia similar to her musical family, but also different. All the Halls are musicians, but Mia is the only classical musician. However, they all share a mutual respect. Her father, Denny, says it's only important that she plays music. In one of the final scenes, Denny, Henry, and Adam are playing music at a party. They invite Mia to play along, but she hesitates because her music is unlike theirs. Yet, when she joins them, she realizes that the music they make together is beautiful.

Mia's cello is also what helps her make friends. Adam is interested in her because of the cello, and he takes her to a cello concert on their first date. Initially, Mia thinks that the cello is a solitary activity, but she realizes that she holds herself to a higher standard when she plays for others. Since Mia has lost so much in the accident, the cello is the one thing she can hold on to. It will stay with her and help her find family.

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