If I Stay

By Gayle Forman


Welcome to the captivating world of If I Stay by Gayle Forman! πŸ“šβœ¨ This enthralling novel has touched the hearts of readers around the globe, offering a story that’s as profound as it is poignant. Gayle Forman, an accomplished author known for her ability to weave complex emotions into gripping narratives, brings to life a tale that explores love, loss, and the choices that define us.

If I Stay falls beautifully into the genre of young adult fiction, but its themes and emotional depth resonate with readers of all ages. Released in 2009, this novel quickly became a bestseller, acclaimed for its thoughtful examination of life’s fragility and the strength found in human connections. The story is set against a backdrop that’s both ordinary and extraordinary, inviting readers to contemplate what truly matters when everything is on the line.

So, whether you’re a long-time fan of Gayle Forman or new to her work, If I Stay promises a journey that’s both heartbreaking and hopeful, filled with moments that will stay with you long after the last page is turned. Let’s dive in! πŸŒŸπŸ“–

Plot Summary

If I Stay is a journey through choice and destiny, masterfully woven by Gayle Forman. Here’s a closer look at the main events that shape this poignant narrative:

Exposition β€” The story introduces us to Mia Hall, an accomplished 17-year-old cellist with a bright future in music. Surrounded by her loving family and dating Adam, an up-and-coming rock star, Mia’s life seems almost perfect. However, everything changes one snowy day.

Rising Action β€” While on a family drive, a devastating car accident occurs, claiming the lives of Mia’s parents and leaving her and her younger brother critically injured. Mia finds herself in a comatose state, experiencing an out-of-body phenomenon where she observes her surroundings and the aftermath of the accident.

Climax β€” The heart of the story unfolds as Mia grapples with the most harrowing choice of her life: to stay and face a world filled with pain and loss or to let go and join her family in death. Her decision is influenced by visits from friends and family, Adam’s desperate plea for her to stay, and her reflections on love, music, and the bonds that tie her to the living world.

Falling Action β€” Mia’s internal struggle continues as she weighs her options, reflecting on her past, her love for music, and her relationships. The support from her grandparents, Adam, and her best friend, Kim, highlights the impact she has on those around her, making her choice even more difficult.

Resolution β€” In the final moments, after hearing Adam’s heartfelt promise to support her regardless of her career choices and his emotional plea, Mia makes the decision to stay. She wakes up from her coma, signifying her choice to face the challenges of a life without her immediate family but filled with love and possibility.

If I Stay presents a narrative rich in emotion and depth, exploring the essence of choice, the value of life, and the unbreakable bonds of love. It’s a testament to the strength found in human connections and the power of love to guide us through the darkest times.

Character Analysis

In If I Stay, Gayle Forman crafts characters with deep emotional layers and complex motivations, making the story resonate with readers on many levels. Let’s explore the main characters:

Mia Hall β€” A talented cellist with dreams of attending Juilliard, Mia is introspective, compassionate, and often feels out of place in her own family due to her classical music interests contrasting with their rock preferences. The tragic accident forces her into a liminal space between life and death, where she contemplates her choice to stay or leave. Her journey is one of self-discovery, grief, love, and ultimately, the realization of what she values most.

Adam Wilde β€” Mia’s boyfriend, a rising rock star, represents the passionate and unpredictable aspects of life that Mia both adores and fears. His love for Mia is deep and complex, highlighted by his willingness to let her go if it means her happiness. Adam’s character development showcases the depth of first love and the sacrifices it entails.

Kim Schein β€” Mia’s best friend, characterized by her loyalty and strength. Kim’s support for Mia, even in the face of unimaginable loss, underscores the theme of enduring friendship and the importance of having someone to lean on.

Mia’s Family (Denny, Kat, and Teddy Hall) β€” The Hall family is a beacon of love and individuality. Each family member’s distinct personality and their collective unwavering support for Mia, both in life and in her ethereal state, provide the foundation upon which Mia builds her identity. Their tragic absence serves as a catalyst for Mia’s profound introspection and eventual decision.

Here’s a summary table of the character analysis:

Mia HallIntrospective, compassionateTo find her place in a world altered by lossGrows to understand the value of choice and love
Adam WildePassionate, committedTo support Mia, regardless of the path she choosesLearns the strength in vulnerability and letting go
Kim ScheinLoyal, strongTo be a steadfast friend to MiaRepresents the enduring nature of true friendship
Mia’s FamilyLoving, supportiveEach has their own individual motivations but collectively support Mia’s dreamsHighlight the impact of family on personal growth

These characters, with their unique traits and development, weave together a story that explores the depths of human emotions, the pain of loss, and the power of love and choice.

Themes and Symbols

If I Stay by Gayle Forman is rich with themes and symbols that contribute to its depth and emotional resonance. Here’s a closer look at the major ones:


The Power of Choice β€” The central theme of the novel, highlighting the impact of Mia’s decision to either stay alive or join her family in death. This theme explores the significance of individual choice in shaping one’s destiny and the way choices are influenced by love, family, and personal aspirations.

Love and Loss β€” Through Mia’s relationships and the aftermath of the tragic accident, the story delves into the complexities of love in its many forms: romantic, familial, and platonic. It portrays how love can provide strength in times of unimaginable loss and how it shapes the decisions we make.

The Importance of Music β€” Music serves as a vital connection between characters, a source of identity for Mia, and a symbol of life’s continuity. It represents the universal language of emotion, capable of bridging gaps between people and worlds.

Family and Support Systems β€” The novel underscores the value of family, both born and chosen, in providing support and understanding. It showcases how the bonds of family and friendship can offer solace and guidance through life’s toughest challenges.


Mia’s Cello β€” Mia’s cello represents her passion, identity, and the life she’s built outside of her family. It symbolizes her growth as an individual and her connection to the world of classical music, which sets her apart but also brings her closer to those she loves.

The Accident β€” The car accident is a stark symbol of life’s fragility and the suddenness with which it can change. It acts as a catalyst for Mia’s journey of self-discovery and the choices she faces.

Adam’s Band β€” Adam’s band symbolizes the different paths that love can take and the compromises required in relationships. It reflects the tension between pursuing personal dreams and the sacrifices made for loved ones.

The ICU β€” Serving as a liminal space between life and death, the ICU symbolizes Mia’s state of being suspended between two worlds. It’s where she observes the living while contemplating her existence and the choice she must make.

Each theme and symbol in If I Stay weaves together to form a narrative that is both deeply personal and universally relatable, exploring the nuances of human emotion and the indomitable spirit of the heart.

Style and Tone

Gayle Forman’s If I Stay is a masterclass in blending a distinctive writing style with a tone that captures the essence of its narrative, contributing significantly to the mood and atmosphere of the book. Here’s a breakdown:

Writing Style

  • Emotionally Charged Prose β€” Forman’s prose is rich with emotion, capable of making readers feel the depths of Mia’s despair, the warmth of her love, and the weight of her choices. The vivid descriptions and introspective monologues draw readers into Mia’s inner world, creating a strong emotional connection.
  • Non-linear Narrative β€” The use of flashbacks interspersed with present events allows Forman to layer the story, providing depth to characters and their relationships. This technique enriches the narrative, offering insights into Mia’s life before the accident and her motivations.
  • Intimate First-person Perspective β€” The story is told from Mia’s perspective, giving readers a direct window into her thoughts and feelings. This intimacy enhances the emotional impact of the story and allows for a nuanced exploration of themes like love, loss, and choice.


  • Reflective and Contemplative β€” The tone of If I Stay is reflective, mirroring Mia’s introspective journey as she contemplates her choice to live or die. This contemplation lends a philosophical depth to the novel, inviting readers to ponder their own values and the role of choice in their lives.
  • Bittersweet and Hopeful β€” Despite the tragedy at its core, the tone of the book is imbued with a sense of hope and the resilience of the human spirit. The bittersweet moments underscore the complexity of life’s beauty intertwined with its fragility.
  • Genuine and Heartfelt β€” Forman’s tone throughout is sincere, avoiding melodrama in favor of genuine emotion. This authenticity resonates with readers, making the story’s themes and characters relatable and impactful.

Contribution to Mood and Atmosphere

The combination of Forman’s emotionally charged writing style and the reflective, bittersweet tone sets a mood that is at once melancholic and hopeful. The atmosphere oscillates between the raw grief of loss and the warm embrace of remembered love, encapsulating the dualities of human experience. The stylistic choices and tonal nuances contribute to a reading experience that is immersive and emotionally resonant, inviting readers to deeply engage with Mia’s story and the universal themes it explores.

Literary Devices used in If I Stay

Gayle Forman skillfully incorporates a variety of literary devices in If I Stay to deepen the narrative and enrich the reader’s experience. Here are the top 10 devices used:

  1. Foreshadowing β€” The narrative structure of If I Stay employs foreshadowing to hint at future events and the crucial decision Mia must make. This technique builds suspense and keeps readers engaged, pondering the outcome of her choice.
  2. Flashback β€” Flashbacks are used extensively to reveal Mia’s past experiences, relationships, and the events that shaped her identity. This device allows readers to understand the depth of her loss and the significance of her connections with family and friends.
  3. Imagery β€” Forman uses vivid imagery to paint scenes that evoke strong emotional responses. Descriptions of Mia’s music, the accident scene, and moments of intimacy with family and friends create a visceral reading experience.
  4. Metaphor β€” The story is rich with metaphors, such as comparing life and death to different pieces of music, which enhances the thematic depth and allows for more profound reflections on the story’s core themes.
  5. Symbolism β€” Various symbols, like Mia’s cello and the snow-covered road, imbue the narrative with additional layers of meaning, reflecting themes of life, death, and choice.
  6. Personification β€” Forman personifies music and other abstract concepts, giving them life-like qualities that mirror Mia’s emotional state and her connections to the world around her.
  7. Simile β€” The use of similes, comparing emotions and experiences to familiar objects or scenarios, helps readers relate to the complex feelings Mia navigates, making her internal journey more tangible.
  8. Irony β€” Dramatic irony is present as readers are privy to Mia’s contemplative state between life and death, understanding the gravity of her situation while other characters are unaware, enhancing the emotional weight of her decision.
  9. Allusion β€” References to famous musicians and pieces of classical music not only contextualize Mia’s passion but also enrich the narrative with cultural depth, linking her story to a broader artistic heritage.
  10. Repetition β€” Key phrases and concepts are repeated throughout the novel, reinforcing the central themes of choice, love, and the essence of life, making them resonate more deeply with the reader.

These literary devices, woven seamlessly into the fabric of the story, elevate the narrative beyond a simple plot, creating a multi-layered tale that engages readers emotionally and intellectually.

Literary Devices Examples

Each literary device used in If I Stay by Gayle Forman adds a unique layer to the storytelling, enhancing the narrative’s depth and emotional resonance. Here are examples and explanations for each of the top 10 literary devices identified:


The early mention of the car trip in snowy conditionsSets the stage for the pivotal accident, subtly hinting at the tragedy that will alter Mia’s life.
Mia’s feeling of something being off the day of the accidentSuggests to readers that a significant event is about to unfold, creating a sense of anticipation.


Mia recalling her audition for JuilliardProvides background on her passion for music and her aspirations, deepening our understanding of her character.
Memories of Mia and Adam’s relationship developmentOffers insight into their bond, making the stakes of her decision to stay or leave even higher.


Description of the accident sceneEvokes a visceral reaction, placing readers in the moment of tragedy and conveying the chaos and horror Mia experiences.
Mia playing her celloCreates a vivid picture of her passion and skill, symbolizing her connection to life and her identity.


Comparing life to a piece of musicIllustrates the complexity of life’s journey, with its highs and lows, much like the movements in a musical composition.


Mia’s celloRepresents her individuality, passion, and the life she’s built outside of her familial bonds. It’s a symbol of her potential future and her connection to the world of music.


Music is described as a living presenceEmbodies the profound impact music has on Mia’s life, acting as a friend, motivator, and bridge to her loved ones.


Comparing the silence after the accident to “a thick blanket”Conveys the suffocating, overwhelming quiet of the aftermath, emphasizing the shock and void left by the loss.


Mia’s earlier desires for some time apart from her family and AdamContrasts sharply with her desperate yearning to have them all back after the accident, highlighting the unpredictability of life and the irony of her situation.


References to famous cellists and classical compositionsConnects Mia’s story to the larger world of classical music, enriching the narrative with cultural and historical depth.


The repeated questioning of “Should I stay?”Emphasizes Mia’s internal conflict and the central theme of choice, making it a recurring motif throughout the story.

These examples underscore the thoughtful use of literary devices in If I Stay, each serving to enhance the storytelling, deepen character development, and engage readers on an emotional level.

If I Stay – FAQs

What is the primary theme of If I Stay?

The primary theme of If I Stay is the power of choice and its impact on one’s destiny. The novel explores how protagonist Mia Hall’s decision to either stay alive or join her deceased family members in death reflects broader questions about the importance of choice in shaping our lives.

How does Gayle Forman use music in the novel?

Gayle Forman uses music as both a literal and metaphorical device in the novel. Literally, it represents Mia’s passion and potential career path. Metaphorically, music symbolizes the connections between characters, the emotions they experience, and the transcendent power of love and art to provide hope and healing.

What role does family play in If I Stay?

Family plays a central role in If I Stay, serving as the foundation of Mia’s identity and the source of her deepest connections and conflicts. The novel examines the impact of familial bonds, both born and chosen, on individual choices and resilience in the face of tragedy.

Can you explain the significance of the car accident in the novel?

The car accident is a pivotal event in If I Stay that serves several purposes: it initiates the main conflict by placing Mia between life and death; it acts as a catalyst for her introspection and decision-making process; and it symbolizes the fragility of life and the suddenness with which everything can change.

How does If I Stay address the concept of loss?

If I Stay addresses loss on multiple levels: the physical loss of Mia’s family, the potential loss of her future and dreams, and the emotional loss experienced by those around her. The novel explores the ways in which individuals cope with loss and how it can lead to profound personal growth and a deeper appreciation for life.

What is the significance of Mia’s choice at the end of the novel?

Mia’s choice to stay alive at the end of the novel is significant because it represents her acceptance of life’s complexities, her willingness to face pain and loss, and her determination to pursue love and fulfillment despite the uncertainties of the future. It underscores the novel’s message about the power of human resilience and the importance of choosing to live fully and love deeply.


What is the main theme of If I Stay?Love and lossThe power of musicThe power of choiceFamily bonds
Who is the protagonist of If I Stay?AdamKimMiaTeddy
What significant event triggers the main storyline?Mia’s Juilliard auditionA car accidentA music concertA family reunion
How does Mia view her relationship with music?As a hobbyAs her destinyAs a challengeAs a temporary interest
What is Mia’s ultimate decision in the book?To leave with her familyTo stay and pursue her music careerTo move to New YorkTo quit playing the cello
Which literary device is extensively used to provide background information?IronyFlashbackMetaphorAlliteration
What symbolizes Mia’s connection to life and her identity?Her family’s carAdam’s guitarMia’s celloThe snow outside the hospital
How does Gayle Forman use music in the narrative?As a backdropAs a characterAs a metaphorAs a conflict
What does the car accident symbolize in the novel?The unpredictability of lifeThe end of Mia’s music careerThe strength of familial bondsThe beginning of a new life
Which character offers Mia unwavering support throughout her ordeal?Her brother TeddyHer friend KimHer boyfriend AdamHer teacher Mr. Dunlap

This quiz is designed to test comprehension of key aspects of If I Stay, including its themes, characters, plot points, and literary devices.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from If I Stay:

“In the stillness of the hospital room, surrounded by the soft beeping of machines that seem to whisper secrets to one another, Mia finds herself floating between two worlds. The stark white walls, which at first seemed to encase her in a sterile cocoon, now appear as a blank canvas, inviting her to paint her future with decisions yet unmade. Outside, the world continues unabated; cars whisk by, people laugh and argue, life dances to the rhythm of an unseen conductor. Inside, Mia wrestles with the weight of her choice, a symphony of emotions playing out in the silence of her mind.”


  • Personification: “machines that seem to whisper secrets to one another” brings life-like qualities to inanimate objects, enhancing the atmosphere of the hospital setting.
  • Metaphor: “the stark white walls, which at first seemed to encase her in a sterile cocoon, now appear as a blank canvas” compares the hospital walls to both a cocoon and a blank canvas, symbolizing Mia’s transformation and potential for new beginnings.
  • Simile: “life dances to the rhythm of an unseen conductor” compares the ongoing life outside the hospital to a dance, suggesting a natural, ordered flow influenced by forces beyond human control.
  • Imagery: The entire paragraph is rich with vivid imagery that paints a picture of Mia’s surroundings and her internal conflict, making the scene and her emotions palpable to the reader.
  • Symbolism: “a symphony of emotions” symbolizes the complex and intense feelings Mia experiences as she contemplates her decision, using the universal language of music to convey depth of emotion.

This exercise encourages students to explore and identify different literary devices, deepening their understanding of how such devices contribute to the narrative’s richness and emotional impact.