Study Guide

If I Stay Themes

  • Mortality

    Death lurks around every corner. No matter how safe you think you are, something terrible can happen at any time, putting your life in danger. Your house *might fall into a sinkhole. You could be dragged into the woods by rabid beavers. Or you could be hit by a flaming toilet seat from space.

    In If I Stay, the accident that claims the lives of Mia's family is a little more mundane than extraterrestrial bath fixtures, but it is no less devastating. Mia learns how precious life is when hers is almost taken away.

    *(If in Florida, change "might" to "will any day.")

    Questions About Mortality

    1. Why would Mia choose to die?
    2. Why doesn't Mia react more strongly to her parents' deaths?
    3. Describe Mia's version of the afterlife. Is it how you expected it to be?
    4. How will almost dying change Mia's perspective on life?

    Chew on This

    If Mia experienced a warm and fuzzy afterlife—like a light at the end of a tunnel—she would be more tempted to die instead of live.

    After waking, Mia will live every day to her fullest, because she knows there is no happy afterlife.

  • Love

    Sleeping Beauty might have been literature's first coma patient, unconscious until woken by true love's kiss. Surprisingly, her story isn't entirely in the realm of fiction, either. In 2009, a woman left unconscious after a heart attack was woken by a kiss from her husband (source).

    For Mia, it's a terrible car accident instead of a magic spell or cardiac arrest that puts her under, but it's still love that brings her back to life.

    Questions About Love

    1. Are Adam and Mia in love with each other, or is it teenage infatuation?
    2. Why does Mia feel more strongly for Adam than she has for any other guy?
    3. Does Mia love Adam more than her she loves her family, or does she love them differently?
  • Art and Culture

    Mia thinks she isn't a hard-rocking punk chick, and she isn't. But she is totally metal. Yes, we're putting the cello and heavy metal in the same sentence. Why? Because science.

    Scientists say that heavy metal music and classical music—and the people who love them—are very similar. Their listeners are both sensitive and dramatic, which is the perfect way to describe If I Stay, a book about a violent car accident that causes a teen girl to ponder life and death. What's more metal than that?

    Questions About Art and Culture

    1. Why does Mia feel an affinity for classical music?
    2. Mia's parents have particular musical tastes. How do their tastes influence their personalities, or vice-versa?
    3. What do Mia and Adam have in common musically?

    Chew on This

    Mia's real love is music, not Adam. She will always choose music over a man.

    Music creates another community for Mia. She has her family, her friends, and people she would never have associated with were it not for their shared love of music.

  • Identity

    There are many ways to express your identity, whether it's with your hairstyle, your clothes, or the music you have blaring from your earbuds. All announce to the world, "This is who I am!" And if who you are is a mulleted man in a kimono listening to Celine Dion, more power to you.

    In If I Stay, the characters aren't quite that eclectic, but they're all trying to find out where they belong in this great big symphony that is life. They do it through the music choices, their wardrobes, and who they hang out with. But identity seems futile when it's wiped out in the blink of an eye in a terrible accident. Be whoever you want to be, because eventually you'll just be dead, right?

    Questions About Identity

    1. We're often told that Adam is cool and that Mia's parents are cool. What makes them cool?
    2. Why does Mia feel like she is different than the rest of her family? Why does she feel like an outsider?
    3. What prompts Dad to change? How is he different before having children and after?

    Chew on This

    Mia struggles with her identity. She's trying to find a balance between being herself and being who she thinks Adam wants her to be.

    In If I Stay, clothes and music are used to define a person's identity, and almost every character is obsessed with looking cool or listening to cool music.

  • Family

    In lots of young adult novels, the protagonist either doesn't associate much with his or her family or outright despises them. But in If I Stay, Mia's family is practically perfect. Their biggest disagreement is over what to listen to first in the car—NPR or classical music. A lot about Mia's life has a fairy-tale quality to it—she's got a perfect music career; she's got a perfect boyfriend who also has a perfect music career; she's basically Sleeping Beauty. And her perfect family enhances the ethereal quality even more.

    Let's hope Mia doesn't have to live with wicked godparents in the sequel.

    Questions About Family

    1. What makes Mia's family such a tightly knit unit?
    2. When thinking of her family, does Mia include her grandparents?
    3. What does Kim mean when she tells Mia, "You still have a family"?(16.17)
    4. How does Mia's family compare to Kim's family?

    Chew on This

    Mia likes her family so much because her mom and dad are more like friends than parents.

    If Mia had a damaged family, she wouldn't be glad they were dead, but it would make the choice of living or dying much easier. She would choose to live immediately, because she would be okay living on her own without them.

  • Choices

    When you're a teenager, you have a lot of different choices to make. Choosing extracurricular activities, finding the right part-time job, and figuring out what college to attend can all be tough decisions. But none of them are life-and-death situations. In If I Stay, Mia does have a life-or-death decision to make—the choice between life and death. It's a choice very few people expect to make, especially at such a young age, but it provides the book's big conflict. Which will she choose?

    Questions About Choices

    1. Does Mia actually have a choice whether she lives or dies?
    2. What will Mia choose after she wakes up—Juilliard or Adam?
    3. Would Adam really choose Mia over his music career? Would this choice make either of them happy?

    Chew on This

    Mia lives a privileged life and a privileged death. Not only does she have a wealth of choices in life—where to go to college, what instrument to play, which fairy-tale ending she'd like for her life—she can also choose to live or die. Every aspect of her own life is under her control.

    Mia's parents were often left without a choice. Both their kids were surprises, and their own death was also a surprise. They had to adapt to what life dealt them, and Mia must do the same after her accident.

  • Supernatural

    There are many movies and books that imagine an afterlife. Patrick Swayze discovered what it was like to be a Ghost. Heaven Is For Real is a popular non-fiction memoir about a boy who finds out that, well, heaven is for real. And Robin Williams found out What Dreams May Come when he lost his fictional family, as Mia loses hers.

    You can add If I Stay to the pantheon of afterlife fiction, but this one is the most understated and mundane of the bunch. Mia doesn't get to fly around, see God, or even walk through walls. Her supernatural power is merely to listen in on things her friends say in private. But maybe that's because she's not quite dead. Yet.

    Questions About Supernatural

    1. What are the rules Mia must follow as a ghost of sorts? How are these rules similar to those in movies you may have seen, like Ghost? How are they different?
    2. If you found yourself in Mia's position, what would you try to do while in spectral form?
    3. Is it possible Mia imagined her whole out-of-body experience?

    Chew on This

    As a spirit, Mia gets proof that people are waiting for her to wake up, like Jimmy Stewart's character does from It's a Wonderful Life.

    The supernatural aspect of the book is primarily used as a plot device. If the book were written in third person, we as readers could still find out what happens while Mia is unconscious, but she wouldn't. She would be distant from the action, and the book would feel less emotionally charged.

  • Friendship

    People form lifelong friendships during childhood, so it's no surprise that young adult novels often feature iconic pairs of BFFs. Harry and Ron. Tom and Huck. Bella and… Okay, Bella didn't really have any friends.

    If I Stay's Mia and Kim aren't going to be joining the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, but they are good friends, even if Mia sometimes veers into Bella's territory of choosing her man above anything else. Kim gives Mia something else to live for. At least that's what Kim tells herself.

    Questions About Friendship

    1. Why do Mia and Kim hate each other when they first meet? What prompts them to do a 180 and become friends?
    2. Why is it so important to Mia that Kim like Adam, and vice-versa?
    3. How does Dad's friendship with Henry mirror Mia's friendship with Kim? How are these friendships different?

    Chew on This

    Kim is an important foil for Mia. She is spiritual, while Mia isn't. She puts Mia's relationship with Adam in perspective. She enables Mia to make informed decisions.

    Mia doesn't place as high a value on her friendship with Kim as she does her relationship with Adam. She never wonders about Kim's post-high-school plans, so Mia will likely go off on her own path without considering Kim at all.