Study Guide

If I Stay

If I Stay Summary

Mia and her family get to enjoy a snow day at the beginning of If I Stay. And it's perfect. Breakfast at home. A nice drive. A horrible car accident that kills almost the entire family instantly.

Okay, so the snow day is far from perfect.

Snow days should be less bloody, but Mia doesn't have a choice… yet.

After the fatal accident, Mia finds herself having an out-of-body experience. The body that she is currently out of is alive, but it's hanging on by a thread. Helpless, ghost Mia watches her body being airlifted to a nearby hospital and put on life support.

As some sort of invisible spirit, Mia watches as her grandparents, relatives, and best friend Kim flock to her side. They pray for her recovery. Mia hopes her little brother, Teddy, is still alive, but the person she really wants to see is her boyfriend, Adam.

Mia has a series of flashbacks, some about her family, but mostly about Adam. He's in a band called Shooting Star. They met because of their shared love of music. He's hot, he's romantic, and her hip parents love him. They're a match made in heaven… which isn't where Mia is going.

See, Mia isn't a spiritual person. There is no white light for her. Her dead parents aren't beckoning to her from beyond. But Mia feels like she has a choice. She can choose to wake up, or she can choose to fade away into the darkness. Mia doesn't want to wake up unless she sees Adam.

Her friend Kim brings Adam to the hospital, but he isn't allowed to see her. Immediate family only in the ICU, folks. Adam gets a musician friend of his to create a distraction, and he rushes in to see Mia—but he's pulled away by guards before he can touch her lifeless body.

Mia soon learns that her little brother is more dead-y than Teddy, and she considers dying, too, in order to send the whole family down with the proverbial ship. But she remembers her promising college opportunity at Juilliard. Mia loves music, and she loves playing cello. Adam returns, and he plays a Yo-Yo Ma track on his iPod. He also holds Mia's hand, and the combo of her two loves—Adam and cello music—bring her back to life. And that's where the book ends, as Mia's life is beginning anew.

  • Chapter 1: 7:09 A.M.

    • Mia wakes up, and there's a thin coating of snow on the ground.
    • You know what that means: SNOW DAY.
    • School is canceled, to the delight of Mia and her younger brother, Teddy.
    • Dad is a teacher, so he's thrilled, too.
    • Mom decides to play hooky so the family can have a fun free day together.
    • They all decide to visit Willow and Henry, family friends.
    • But first—pancakes. Breakfast of champions.
  • Chapter 2: 8:17 A.M.

    • The family piles into the car.
    • First, they listen to the news.
    • Then, they listen to the classical station.
    • Beethoven puts Mia dead to sleep.
    • And we mean dead.
    • When Mia wakes up, "the car is eviscerated" (2.17).
    • And so is Mia's family. They have been in a horrible accident.
    • Mia finds her Dad and Mom dead in the car.
    • Mia searches for her brother Teddy and finds—herself.
    • Confused, Mia realizes she is having an out of body experience.
    • Beethoven is still playing on the radio, and ghost-Mia listens to it until the paramedics arrive.
  • Chapter 3: 9:23 A.M.

    • Mia wonders if she's dead.
    • The paramedics arrive, and as they try to revive her, Mia realizes she isn't dead. But she is barely clinging onto life.
    • "You hang in there" (3.16), one of the paramedics tells Mia.
    • Mia has a flashback to her first cello recital.
    • Mia is way nervous, and she asks her dad for advice on getting over her anxiety.
    • "You don't. You just work through it. You just hang in there" (3.43), says Pops.
    • Translation: fake it 'til you make it.
  • Chapter 4: 10:12 A.M.

    • The ambulance rushes Mia to the hospital.
    • Mia overhears that yes, her parents her dead, but Teddy is behind her. He may still be alive.
    • However, Mia needs to be airlifted to a bigger hospital, so off she goes in a helicopter to Portland.
    • In the helicopter, Mia wonders who will tell her boyfriend where she is.
    • Mia has a flashback to when Adam, the boyfriend, first asked her out.
    • Mia and Adam go to a Yo-Yo Ma cello concert in Portland.
    • Mia isn't sure it's a date—until Adam shows up in a suit. It's a date.
    • Mia still doesn't understand why Adam, the king of cool, asked her uncool self out.
    • Adam tells her Mia he noticed how much she loved music. Of course.
    • And they kiss. Oo la la.
  • Chapter 5: 12:19 P.M.

    • "There are a lot of things wrong with me" (5.1), Mia says, and she doesn't mean her complete lack of fashion sense.
    • Mia has a collapsed lung, a ruptured spleen, internal bleeding, broken ribs, and brain contusions. It's like she's an NFL player, not a cellist.
    • Ghost-Mia is able to watch the surgeons operate on real-Mia.
    • To test her ghostly abilities, Mia tries to walk through the wall…
    • And smacks into the wall. At least ghosts don't feel pain.
    • Ghost-Mia walks to the waiting room like a normal person.
    • Mia's grandparents are there.
    • Mia has a flashback to when she auditioned for Julliard.
    • Gramps drove Mia to San Francisco, where she aced the audition.
    • Then Gramps took Mia out on the town. They had a great time.
    • When they returned, Gramps hugged Mia. He's usually a handshake guy, so the hug was a big deal.
  • Chapter 6: 3:47 P.M.

    • Real-Mia is moved to the ICU.
    • Ghost-Mia can still say I see you to her own body, which is weird.
    • Mia eavesdrops on the nurses, who say she is in "grave" condition (6.4).
    • Mia hopes she can see Adam before she goes.
    • Mia has a flashback to the early days of her relationship with Adam. "It didn't start out so smoothly" (6.12), apparently.
    • Mia's parents love Adam, and he's super romantic.
    • Mia and Adam have a Titanic moment in her bedroom when he says, "I want you to play me like a cello" (6.41). That's totally the new "I want you to draw me like one of your French girls."
    • Mia literally rubs her cello bow all over him. No, really. We're not making this up.
    • Adam then plays Mia like a guitar, which involves fingers and plucking. It's orgasmic. Hey, don't look at us; we're just the messengers.
    • The next day, Mia tells Adam she loves him.
    • If this is not starting out smoothly, we wonder how mind-blowing a smooth start would be.
  • Chapter 7: 4:39 P.M.

    • Everyone and their mother is in the waiting room for Mia.
    • Well, except Mia's own mother. She's dead. (Too soon?)
    • Mia's BFFL Kim arrives. Kim's mother is a wreck, but Kim is holding it together.
    • Until she's in private. Kim goes to the hospital's multi-denominational chapel and does a little prayer-slash-talking-to-ghost-Mia, even though she has no idea that Ghost-Mia is right there listening.
    • Kim prays for her friend not to die.
    • Mia has a flashback to how she and Kim met, in middle school.
    • Kim and Mia hated each other at first. So much so that they got into a fistfight.
    • But after a few punches, Kim and Mia became fast friends, inseparable ever since.
    • That happened to us all the time in middle school.
    • Not.
  • Chapter 8: 4:47 P.M.

    • A social worker leads Gran and Gramps to see Mia's unconscious body.
    • A nurse with nice fingernails tells the g-'rents to talk to Mia. "Don't you doubt for a second that she can hear you" (8.28), the nurse says. How does she know?
    • Mia tells us about her parents.
    • The 'rents were married young, and they had Mia the next year, conceiving her by accident at someone else's wedding. They wouldn't call her an accident, though. She was "an experiment" (8.41).
    • Unprepared to have kids, Mia's parents still liked her and decided to have another.
    • After four years and two miscarriages, Mom suddenly discovered she was pregnant with Teddy, after they'd stopped trying.
    • Mia was excited to have a baby brother.
  • Chapter 9: 5:40 P.M.

    • Ghost-Mia eavesdrops on Gran and Gramps.
    • Gramps wonders if Mia will want to die to be with her parents.
    • But Ghost-Mia hasn't seen her parents. She is all alone in this weird space between life and death.
    • Mia realizes that she could choose to die, though. "If I stay. If I live. It's up to me" (9.13). Hey, title shout-out.
    • Before she makes any decision, Mia wants to see Adam.
    • Halloween flashback.
    • Adam dresses up as Mozart, and Mia decides to dress up as a rock chick.
    • Mia's mom, a former rock chick, takes Mia thrift-store shopping for the perfect costume.
    • Mia feels fierce and sexy, totally unlike her normal self.
    • Mia even goes to a concert with Adam after taking her brother trick-or-treating.
    • And Halloween-costume-Mia gets into the mosh pit, something introvert-Mia never does.
    • After the concert, Mia asks Adam is he likes her more as a rock chick.
    • "This is the you I like," Adam says. "You're one of the punkest girls I know, no matter who you listen to or what you wear" (9.93). Aww. Even if she listens to Nickelback?
  • Chapter 10: 7:13 P.M.

    • Adam has arrived. Kim went to find him and bring him to the hospital.
    • But security won't let Adam in to see Mia. Family only.
    • Mia has a flashback to the first time she told Kim she had a boyfriend.
    • Kim and Adam don't like each other that much. They don't hate each other; they're just not crazy about each other.
    • As Kim says, "Not everyone swoons for Adam" (10.85).
    • This is what passes for a crisis in Mia's life—her best friend and her boyfriend tolerate one another.
  • Chapter 11: 8:12 P.M.

    • Mia overhears that the man who hit her family's car is alive.
    • Mia isn't angry at him, because "his life has changed irrevocably too" (11.6).
    • Ghost-Mia finds Kim and Adam plotting to break into the ICU.
    • Adam plans on dressing up as a janitor and sneaking in, but he can't find a spare janitor's costume lying around.
    • Adam has another plan, and he dashes off.
    • Mia has a flashback to the time she almost quit playing cello. But then she decided not to quit playing cello.
    • Instead, Mia went to a music camp with other classical-instrument-playing kids.
    • Mia went to the camp for four years and even earned a prestigious solo in their year-end concert.
  • Chapter 12: 9:06 P.M.

    • Adam brings Brooke Vega, "indie-music goddess" (12.1) to the hospital to create a distraction. Um, how did he accomplish this?
    • Brooke sings in the waiting room, and when all eyes are on her, Adam and Kim run into the ICU to see Mia.
    • Okay, next time we want to sneak into a hospital, we'll just call up Sufjan Stevens to come play in the waiting room. Seems legit.
    • Adam's just about to reach Mia's bed when security guards nab him.
    • Suddenly, Willow, Mom's nurse friend, shows up.
    • Willow takes charge and orders security to release Adam, or else she will call the hospital's director of community affairs.
    • Oh nos.
    • However, Mia realizes that if Willow is there, that means she's not at the other hospital with Teddy.
    • Which means Teddy is dead.
    • Mia has a flashback to watching Teddy be born.
    • Mia even cuts the umbilical cord, and she is the first one to hold Teddy.
    • Because of that, Mom used to joke that Teddy thought Mia was his mom.
    • And now he's dead. RIP, Teddy.
  • Chapter 13: 10:40 P.M.

    • Real-Mia's blood pressure plummets. Her abdomen is full of fluid and must be drained.
    • Ghost-Mia wonders if she even wants to wake up now that Teddy is gone.
    • Mia has a flashback to the one funeral she attended. Her mom and dad's friend had died.
    • Mom hated the funeral because it was sad and schmaltzy, not at all what her friend would have wanted.
    • Mom and Mia talk about how they'd want their funerals to play out.
    • Mia wants Mozart's Requiem playing.
    • Mom hopes she and Mia's dad will die together. Oops, look like she got that wish, but a lot earlier than she'd hoped for.
    • Ghost-Mia wonders if she should die, so they can all "go down as a family" (13.65). Uhh.
    • But Mia doesn't think her mother would be happy with that decision.
  • Chapter 14: 2:48 A.M.

    • Real-Mia is out of surgery and stable.
    • Willow brings Gran and Gramps to check on her.
    • When Willow and Gran leave, Gramps stays behind.
    • Gramps tells Mia that if she wants to stop fighting, it's okay. She can.
    • Ghost-Mia is glad someone understands how much she has lost.
    • Mia has a flashback to when her dad left his punk band.
    • It was after Teddy was born, and Dad decided to be responsible.
    • Dad's friend, Henry, didn't understand, and was mad at Dad for months.
    • Until Henry had a child of his own. Then he understood.
    • Someone else took it hard: Gramps.
    • Even though he never personally liked his son's music, Gramps always found him to be a talented poet, and he hoped his son would keep writing songs.
    • Mia goes home and finds one of her dad's CDs.
    • Mia listens to the lyrics of a song called "Waiting for Vengeance."
    • The lyrics are about "running out of fight" (14.52) and making a change in life.
    • Mia likes the lyrics, and she sings the song with her dad, understanding why he decided to leave his band.
    • Mia and her dad play checkers together.
  • Chapter 15: 4:57 A.M.

    • Mia thinks about the song "Waiting for Vengeance" and wonders if she, too, is out of fight.
    • Adam goes to see Mia and holds her hand.
    • Mia flashes back to being in love with Adam but not wanting to tell him about her acceptance to Juilliard.
    • If Mia goes to Juilliard, and if Adam's band continues being successful, they might never see each other again. Their success is starting to tear them apart.
    • Mom advises Mia to go to Juilliard and not stay behind just for Adam, even if she does love him.
    • Mia decides she will go.
  • Chapter 16: 5:42 A.M.

    • Adam rushes out of the hospital.
    • Ghost-Mia wonders if Adam can't bear to be near Real-Mia's lifeless body another second.
    • Kim stays behind, and she tells Mia to hang on.
    • "We're all your family" (16.16), Kim says, alluding to the dozens of people in the waiting room praying for Mia's recovery.
    • Mia has a flashback to an amazing Labor Day party.
    • All Mia's family and friends are there.
    • Mia plays cello with her dad's guitar friends, and "it sounded pretty amazing" (16.61).
  • Chapter 17: 7:16 A.M.

    • Adam returns with an iPod.
    • Adam takes Real-Mia's hand and puts the headphones over Real-Mia's ears.
    • And Adam plays Yo-Yo Ma.
    • The music of Mia's favorite cellist, and the person she saw on her first date with Adam, brings Ghost-Mia back into Real-Mia's body.
    • Mia feels so much pain, physical and emotional.
    • But by holding on to Adam's hand and squeezing, Mia feels better.
    • Adam's grip tightens, and he says, "Mia" (17.31).
    • The end.
    • Seriously, guys, that's the end. Clear out.