If I Stay
  • If I Stay
  • If I Stay

If I Stay

4.2 746
by Gayle Forman

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A critically acclaimed novel that will change the way you look at life, love, and family.

In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to

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A critically acclaimed novel that will change the way you look at life, love, and family.

In the blink of an eye everything changes. Seventeen ­year-old Mia has no memory of the accident; she can only recall what happened afterwards, watching her own damaged body being taken from the wreck. Little by little she struggles to put together the pieces- to figure out what she has lost, what she has left, and the very difficult choice she must make. Heartwrenchingly beautiful, Mia's story will stay with you for a long, long time.

Editorial Reviews

Mia has no memory of the accident that changed her life. This inexperienced 17-year-old only recalls riding on that slippery Oregon road with her family, then, in an instant, seeing herself lifted from the twisted wreck. This affecting story of one young woman's struggle through tragedy and grieving will appeal to readers of books like Thirteen Reasons Why.
Publishers Weekly

The last normal moment that Mia, a talented cellist, can remember is being in the car with her family. Then she is standing outside her body beside their mangled Buick and her parents' corpses, watching herself and her little brother being tended by paramedics. As she ponders her state ("Am I dead?I actually have to ask myself this"), Mia is whisked away to a hospital, where, her body in a coma, she reflects on the past and tries to decide whether to fight to live. Via Mia's thoughts and flashbacks, Forman (Sisters in Sanity) expertly explores the teenager's life, her passion for classical music and her strong relationships with her family, friends and boyfriend, Adam. Mia's singular perspective (which will recall Alice Sebold's adult novel, The Lovely Bones) also allows for powerful portraits of her friends and family as they cope: "Please don't die. If you die, there's going to be one of those cheesy Princess Diana memorials at school," prays Mia's friend Kim. "I know you'd hate that kind of thing." Intensely moving, the novel will force readers to take stock of their lives and the people and things that make them worth living. Ages 14-up. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
...laced with insight, good humor, and wonder...
Horn Book
. . . the stakes are poignantly conveyed through Mia's vivid memories of a rich, rewarding life.
Children's Literature - Judy DaPolito
This moving first person novel, told by seventeen-year-old Mia, begins as a carefree, unexpected holiday. School is called off because of snow, leaving Mia, her eight-year-old brother Teddy, and her teacher father free for the day. Her mother takes the day off work, too, and since the snow melts off the roads almost immediately, the family piles into the car to visit friends and grandparents. When a pickup truck smashes into the passenger side, Mia's mother and father are killed outright, her little brother is critically injured, and she finds herself standing over her own body as rescue workers fight to save her life. The book continues through the harrowing day and night with Mia's descriptions of current horrors in present tense sections identified by clock time followed by past tense sections devoted to her memories of family and friends. Through this narration, we learn about her eccentric but loving parents, her affection for Teddy, her deep friendship with her classmate Kim, her strong relationship with her rock-musician boyfriend Adam, and her own promising future as a classical cellist. Throughout her day and night in the operating room and the intensive care unit, she observes her unconscious self in the bed and—after hearing a nurse tell her grandparents that whether she lives or dies is up to her—wrestles with her decision. She is torn between fearing that she cannot bear to live with the loss of her parents and brother, and aching to stay with Kim and Adam and her grandparents. The resolution comes when Adam brings in a recording of Yo-Yo Ma, the cellist he took her to hear on their first date. Adam's tears and the sound of the cello combine to bring her back toconsciousness. Well-chosen scenes and details make Mia and the other characters both vivid and appealing. Reviewer: Judy DaPolito
VOYA - Lauri J. Vaughan
Beginning with the idyllic chocolate-chip-pancake morning, seventeen-year-old Mia recounts the twenty-four hours surrounding the tragic car accident that kills her parents and leaves her comatose in an ICU ward. In a manner that is not stilted, Mia becomes the invisible observer and narrator of her roadside rescue, emergency surgery, and the waiting room vigil of family and friends. Expertly woven into the detail of medical procedures and heart-wrenching visits by loved ones is the story of Mia, her parents, and ten-year-younger brother Teddy; her passion for the cello; and the unlikely but true boyfriend Adam. And although Forman's novel is about what might go through the lucid mind of a teen who finds herself in Mia's horrific spot, it offers even more. It is a story about the difficult choices facing teens everyday - even those who, like Mia, are part of a supportive family and have everything going for them. Mia's retelling of her own history is not a lament. At times, the reader will forget the narrator's present circumstance and get completely lost in the description of her first date with Adam at a Yo Yo Ma concert. Still the accident and Mia's condition provides a powerful backdrop that brings the history into frighteningly sharp focus - especially at the novel's conclusion. Forman's characters are smart and solid. There is little wasted prose, and not a single event rings false. Music lovers will appreciate the passions of Mia, Adam, and her family, who adopt an eclectic mix of favorites. Reviewer: Lauri J. Vaughan
VOYA - Isabel Crevasse
Forman's If I Stay is portrayed as just another coming-of-age, pseudo-dramatic teen story in the back cover paragraph. In this case, first impressions are painfully incorrect. Original and exciting, it is a novel about relationships, life, and the people involved in both. The characters are tangibly real; the plot is fascinating and will cause pages to turn rapidly. Teens and adults alike will find themselves falling in love with Forman's stunning novel. Reviewer: Isabel Crevasse, Teen Reviewer
School Library Journal

Gr 9 Up

Forman creates a cast of captivating characters and pulls readers into a compelling story that will cause them to laugh, cry, and question the boundaries of family and love. While out on a drive with her family, 17-year-old Mia is suddenly separated from her body and forced to watch the aftermath of the accident that kills her parents and gravely injures her and her younger brother. Far from supernatural, this shift in perspective will be readily accepted by readers as Mia reminisces about significant events and people in her life while her body lies in a coma. Alternating between the past and the present, she reveals the details and complexities of her relationships with family and friends, including the unlikely romance with her punk-rock boyfriend, Adam. An accomplished musician herself, Mia is torn between pursuing her love for music at Julliard and a future with Adam in Oregon. However, she must first choose between fighting to survive and giving in to the resulting sadness and despair over all she has lost. Readers will find themselves engrossed in Mia's struggles and will race to the satisfying yet realistic conclusion. Teens will identify with Mia's honest discussion of her own insecurities and doubts. Both brutal and beautiful, this thought-provoking story will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.-Lynn Rashid, Marriotts Ridge High School, Marriottsville, MD

Kirkus Reviews
When snow cancels school, Mia and her family pile into their beat-up station wagon for a drive. Unlike most 17-year-olds, Mia is secretly enjoying hanging out with her quirky family until an oncoming driver shatters their lives, leaving the gravely injured Mia with the ultimate decision: Should she stay or go? As a spirit-like observer, Mia narrates the next 24 hours, describing how her medical team, friends, boyfriend and extended family care for her each in their own way. Woven into her real-time observations are powerful memories that organically introduce Mia's passion for classical music, her relationship with her boyfriend and her bond with her parents and brother. These memories reinforce the magnitude of Mia's decision and provide weight to both sides of her dilemma. Forman excels at inserting tiny but powerful details throughout, including the realistic sounds, smells and vocabulary of a hospital, which will draw readers into this masterful text and undoubtedly tug at even the toughest of heartstrings. (Fiction. YA)
From the Publisher

"[If I Stay] is a story about the difficult choices facing teens everyday...Forman's characters are smart and solid. ---VOYA, starred review

Forman excels at inserting tiny but powerful details throughout...which will draw readers into this masterful text and undoubtedly tug at even the toughest of heartstrings. ---Kirkus Reviews

Both brutal and beautiful, this thought-provoking story will stay with readers long after the last page is turned. ---School Library Journal, starred review

Intensely moving, the novel will force readers to take stock of their lives and the people and things that make them worth living. ---Publishers Weekly, starred review


Christine Halkovic
Seventeen-year-old Mia has a great life: she has a close-knit family, her band-playing boyfriend is loving and devoted to her, and her talent as a cellist has almost certainly earned her a place at Julliard, her dream school. The only decision Mia really has to make is which path she wants to follow. At least, she thought that was the only decision she had to make. One ride with her family during a school snow day, however, changes everything. Suddenly, there's only one decision Mia has to make—a critical decision that she has to make as she watches the paramedics work on her body. It's the most important decision of all, and she has to make it all on her own: stay, or go? Reviewer: Christine Halkovic

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Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
If I Stay Series, #1
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.92(w) x 7.84(h) x 0.88(d)
830L (what's this?)
Age Range:
14 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

7:09 A.M.

Everyone thinks it was because of the snow. And in a way, I suppose that’s true.

I wake up this morning to a thin blanket of white covering our front lawn. It isn’t even an inch, but in this part of Oregon a slight dusting brings everything to a standstill as the one snowplow in the county gets busy clearing the roads. It is wet water that drops from the sky—and drops and drops and drops—not the frozen kind.

It is enough snow to cancel school. My little brother, Teddy, lets out a war whoop when Mom’s AM radio announces the closures. “Snow day!” he bellows. “Dad, let’s go make a snowman.”

My dad smiles and taps on his pipe. He started smoking  one recently as part of this whole 1950s, Father Knows Best retro kick he is on. He also wears bow ties. I am never quite clear on whether all this is sartorial or sardonic—Dad’s way of announcing that he used to be a punker but is now a middle-school English teacher, or if becoming a teacher has actually turned my dad into this genuine throwback. But I like the smell of the pipe tobacco. It is sweet and smoky, and reminds me of winters and woodstoves.

“You can make a valiant try,” Dad tells Teddy. “But it’s hardly sticking to the roads. Maybe you should consider a snow amoeba.”

I can tell Dad is happy. Barely an inch of snow means that all the schools in the county are closed, including my high school and the middle school where Dad works, so it’s an unexpected day off for him, too. My mother, who works for a travel agent in town, clicks off the radio and pours herself a second cup of coffee. “Well, if you lot are playing hooky today, no way I’m going to work. It’s simply not right.” She picks up the telephone to call in. When she’s done, she looks at us. “Should I make breakfast?”

Dad and I guffaw at the same time. Mom makes cereal and toast. Dad’s the cook in the family.

Pretending not to hear us, she reaches into the cabinet for a box of Bisquick. “Please. How hard can it be? Who wants pancakes?”

“I do! I do!” Teddy yells. “Can we have chocolate chips in them?”

“I don’t see why not,” Mom replies.

“Woo hoo!” Teddy yelps, waving his arms in the air.

“You have far too much energy for this early in the morning,” I tease. I turn to Mom. “Maybe you shouldn’t let Teddy drink so much coffee.”

“I’ve switched him to decaf,” Mom volleys back. “He’s just naturally exuberant.”

“As long as you’re not switching me to decaf,” I say.

“That would be child abuse,” Dad says.

Mom hands me a steaming mug and the newspaper.

“There’s a nice picture of your young man in there,” she says.

“Really? A picture?”

“Yep. It’s about the most we’ve seen of him since summer,” Mom says, giving me a sidelong glance with her eyebrow arched, her version of a soul-searching stare.

“I know,” I say, and then without meaning to, I sigh. Adam’s band, Shooting Star, is on an upward spiral, which, is a great thing—mostly.

“Ah, fame, wasted on the youth,” Dad says, but he’s smiling. I know he’s excited for Adam. Proud even.

I leaf through the newspaper to the calendar section. There’s a small blurb about Shooting Star, with an even smaller picture of the four of them, next to a big article about Bikini and a huge picture of the band’s lead singer: punk-rock diva Brooke Vega. The bit about them basically says that local band Shooting Star is opening for Bikini on the Portland leg of Bikini’s national tour. It doesn’t mention the even-bigger-to-me news that last night Shooting  Star headlined at a club in Seattle and, according to the text Adam sent me at midnight, sold out the place.

“Are you going tonight?” Dad asks.

“I was planning to. It depends if they shut down the whole state on account of the snow.”

“It is approaching a blizzard,” Dad says, pointing to a single snowflake floating its way to the earth.

“I’m also supposed to rehearse with some pianist from the college that Professor Christie dug up.” Professor Christie, a retired music teacher at the university who I’ve been working with for the last few years, is always looking for victims for me to play with. “Keep you sharp so you can show all those Juilliard snobs how it’s really done,” she says.

I haven’t gotten into Juilliard yet, but my audition went really well. The Bach suite and the Shostakovich had both flown out of me like never before, like my fingers were just an extension of the strings and bow. When I’d finished playing, panting, my legs shaking from pressing together so hard, one judge had clapped a little, which I guess doesn’t happen very often. As I’d shuffled out, that same judge had told me that it had been a long time since the school had “seen an Oregon country girl.” Professor Christie had taken that to mean a guaranteed acceptance. I wasn’t so sure that was true. And I wasn’t 100 percent sure that I wanted it to be true. Just like with Shooting Star’s meteoric rise, my admission to Juilliard—if it happens—will create certain complications, or, more accurately, would compound the complications that have already cropped up in the last few months.

“I need more coffee. Anyone else?” Mom asks, hovering over me with the ancient percolator.

I sniff the coffee, the rich, black, oily French roast we all prefer. The smell alone perks me up. “I’m pondering going back to bed,” I say. “My cello’s at school, so I can’t even practice.”

“Not practice? For twenty-four hours? Be still, my broken heart,” Mom says. Though she has acquired a taste for classical music over the years—“it’s like learning to appreciate a stinky cheese”—she’s been a not-always-delighted captive audience for many of my marathon rehearsals.

I hear a crash and a boom coming from upstairs. Teddy is pounding on his drum kit. It used to belong to Dad. Back when he’d played drums in a big-in-our-town, unknown-anywhere-else band, back when he’d worked at a record store.

Dad grins at Teddy’s noise, and seeing that, I feel a familiar pang. I know it’s silly but I have always wondered if Dad is disappointed that I didn’t become a rock chick. I’d meant to. Then, in third grade, I’d wandered over to the cello in music class—it looked almost human to me. It looked like if you played it, it would tell you secrets, so I started playing. It’s been almost ten years now and I haven’t stopped.

“So much for going back to sleep,” Mom yells over Teddy’s noise.

“What do you know, the snow’s already melting.” Dad says, puffing on his pipe. I go to the back door and peek outside. A patch of sunlight has broken through the clouds, and I can hear the hiss of the ice melting. I close the door and go back to the table.

“I think the county overreacted,” I say.

“Maybe. But they can’t un-cancel school. Horse is already out of the barn, and I already called in for the day off,” Mom says.

“Indeed. But we might take advantage of this unexpected boon and go somewhere,” Dad says. “Take a drive. Visit Henry and Willow.” Henry and Willow are some of Mom and Dad’s old music friends who’d also had a kid and decided to start behaving like grown-ups. They live in a big old farmhouse. Henry does Web stuff from the barn they converted into a home office and Willow works at a nearby hospital. They have a baby girl. That’s the real reason Mom and Dad want to go out there. Teddy having just turned eight and me being seventeen means that we are long past giving off that sour-milk smell that makes adults melt.

“We can stop at BookBarn on the way back,” Mom says, as if to entice me. BookBarn is a giant, dusty old used-book store. In the back they keep a stash of twenty-five-cent classical records that nobody ever seems to buy except me. I keep a pile of them hidden under my bed. A collection of classical records is not the kind of thing you advertise.

I’ve shown them to Adam, but that was only after we’d already been together for five months. I’d expected him to laugh. He’s such the cool guy with his pegged jeans and black low-tops, his effortlessly beat-up punk-rock tees and his subtle tattoos. He is so not the kind of guy to end up with someone like me. Which was why when I’d first spotted him watching me at the music studios at school two years ago, I’d been convinced he was making fun of me and I’d hidden from him. Anyhow, he hadn’t laughed. It turned out he had a dusty collection of punk-rock records under his bed.

“We can also stop by Gran and Gramps for an early dinner,” Dad says, already reaching for the phone. “We’ll have you back in plenty of time to get to Portland,” he adds as he dials.

“I’m in,” I say. It isn’t the lure of BookBarn, or the fact that Adam is on tour, or that my best friend, Kim, is busy doing yearbook stuff. It isn’t even that my cello is at school or that I could stay home and watch TV or sleep. I’d actually rather go off with my family. This is another thing you don’t advertise about yourself, but Adam gets that, too.

“Teddy,” Dad calls. “Get dressed. We’re going on an adventure.”

Teddy finishes off his drum solo with a crash of cymbals. A moment later he’s bounding into the kitchen fully dressed, as if he’d pulled on his clothes while careening down the steep wooden staircase of our drafty Victorian house. “School’s out for summer . . .” he sings.

“Alice Cooper?” Dad asks. “Have we no standards? At least sing the Ramones.”

“School’s out forever,” Teddy sings over Dad’s protests.

“Ever the optimist,” I say.

Mom laughs. She puts a plate of slightly charred pancakes down on the kitchen table. “Eat up, family.”

8:17 A.M.

We pile into the car, a rusting Buick that was already old when Gran gave it to us after Teddy was born. Mom and Dad offer to let me drive, but I say no. Dad slips behind the wheel. He likes to drive now. He’d stubbornly refused to get a license for years, insisting on riding his bike everywhere. Back when he played music, his ban on driving meant that his bandmates were the ones stuck behind the wheel on tours. They used to roll their eyes at him. Mom had done more than that. She’d pestered, cajoled, and sometimes yelled at Dad to get a license, but he’d insisted that he preferred pedal power. “Well, then you better get to work on building a bike that can hold a family of three and keep us dry when it rains,” she’d demanded. To which Dad always had laughed and said that he’d get on that.

But when Mom had gotten pregnant with Teddy, she’d put her foot down. Enough, she said. Dad seemed to understand that something had changed. He’d stopped arguing and had gotten a driver’s license. He’d also gone back to school to get his teaching certificate. I guess it was okay to be in arrested development with one kid. But with two, time to grow up. Time to start wearing a bow tie.

He has one on this morning, along with a flecked sport coat and vintage wingtips. “Dressed for the snow, I see,” I say.

“I’m like the post office,” Dad replies, scraping the snow off the car with one of Teddy’s plastic dinosaurs that are scattered on the lawn. “Neither sleet nor rain nor a half inch of snow will compel me to dress like a lumberjack.”

“Hey, my relatives were lumberjacks,” Mom warns. “No making fun of the white-trash woodsmen.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Dad replies. “Just making stylistic contrasts.”

Dad has to turn the ignition over a few times before the car chokes to life. As usual, there is a battle for stereo dominance. Mom wants NPR. Dad wants Frank Sinatra. Teddy wants SpongeBob SquarePants. I want the classical-music station, but recognizing that I’m the only classical fan in the family, I am willing to compromise with Shooting Star.

Dad brokers the deal. “Seeing as we’re missing school today, we ought to listen to the news for a while so we don’t become ignoramuses—”

“I believe that’s ignoramusi,” Mom says.

Dad rolls his eyes and clasps his hand over Mom’s and clears his throat in that schoolteachery way of his. “As I  was saying, NPR first, and then when the news is over, the classical station. Teddy, we will not torture you with that. You can use the Discman,” Dad says, starting to disconnect the portable player he’s rigged to the car radio. “But you are not allowed to play Alice Cooper in my car. I forbid it.” Dad reaches into the glove box to examine what’s inside. “How about Jonathan Richman?”

“I want SpongeBob. It’s in the machine,” Teddy shouts, bouncing up and down and pointing to the Discman. The chocolate-chip pancakes dowsed in syrup have clearly only enhanced his hyper excitement.

“Son, you break my heart,” Dad jokes. Both Teddy and I were raised on the goofy tunes of Jonathan Richman, who is Mom and Dad’s musical patron saint.

Once the musical selections have been made, we are off. The road has some patches of snow, but mostly it’s just wet. But this is Oregon. The roads are always wet. Mom used to joke that it was when the road was dry that people ran into trouble. “They get cocky, throw caution to the wind, drive like assholes. The cops have a field day doling out speeding tickets.”

I lean my head against the car window, watching the scenery zip by, a tableau of dark green fir trees dotted with snow, wispy strands of white fog, and heavy gray storm clouds up above. It’s so warm in the car that the windows keep fogging up, and I draw little squiggles in the condensation.

When the news is over, we turn to the classical station.  I hear the first few bars of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 3, which was the very piece I was supposed to be working on this afternoon. It feels like some kind of cosmic coincidence. I concentrate on the notes, imagining myself playing, feeling grateful for this chance to practice, happy to be in a warm car with my sonata and my family. I close my eyes.

You wouldn’t expect the radio to work afterward. But it does.

The car is eviscerated. The impact of a four-ton pickup truck going sixty miles an hour plowing straight into the passenger side had the force of an atom bomb. It tore off the doors, sent the front-side passenger seat through the driver’s-side window. It flipped the chassis, bouncing it across the road and ripped the engine apart as if it were no stronger than a spiderweb. It tossed wheels and hubcaps deep into the forest. It ignited bits of the gas tank, so that now tiny flames lap at the wet road.

And there was so much noise. A symphony of grinding, a chorus of popping, an aria of exploding, and finally, the sad clapping of hard metal cutting into soft trees. Then it went quiet, except for this: Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 3, still playing. The car radio somehow still is attached to a battery and so Beethoven is broadcasting into the once-again tranquil February morning.

At first I figure everything is fine. For one, I can still hear the Beethoven. Then there’s the fact that I am standing here in a ditch on the side of the road. When I look down, the jean skirt, cardigan sweater, and the black boots I put on this morning all look the same as they did when we left the house.

I climb up the embankment to get a better look at the car. It isn’t even a car anymore. It’s a metal skeleton, without seats, without passengers. Which means the rest of my family must have been thrown from the car like me. I brush off my hands onto my skirt and walk into the road to find them.

I see Dad first. Even from several feet away, I can make out the protrusion of the pipe in his jacket pocket. “Dad,” I call, but as I walk toward him, the pavement grows slick and there are gray chunks of what looks like cauliflower. I know what I’m seeing right away but it somehow does not immediately connect back to my father. What springs into my mind are those news reports about tornadoes or fires, how they’ll ravage one house but leave the one next door intact. Pieces of my father’s brain are on the asphalt. But his pipe is in his left breast pocket.

I find Mom next. There’s almost no blood on her, but her lips are already blue and the whites of her eyes are completely red, like a ghoul from a low-budget monster movie. She seems totally unreal. And it is the sight of her looking like some preposterous zombie that sends a hummingbird of panic ricocheting through me.

I need to find Teddy! Where is he? I spin around, suddenly frantic, like the time I lost him for ten minutes at the grocery store. I’d been convinced he’d been kidnapped. Of course, it had turned out that he’d wandered over to inspect the candy aisle. When I found him, I hadn’t been sure whether to hug him or yell at him.

I run back toward the ditch where I came from and I see a hand sticking out. “Teddy! I’m right here!” I call. “Reach up. I’ll pull you out.” But when I get closer, I see the metal glint of a silver bracelet with tiny cello and guitar charms. Adam gave it to me for my seventeenth birthday. It’s my bracelet. I was wearing it this morning. I look down at my wrist. I’m stillwearing it now.

I edge closer and now I know that it’s not Teddy lying there. It’s me. The blood from my chest has seeped through my shirt, skirt, and sweater, and is now pooling like paint drops on the virgin snow. One of my legs is askew, the skin and muscle peeled away so that I can see white streaks of bone. My eyes are closed, and my dark brown hair is wet and rusty with blood.

I spin away. This isn’t right. This cannot be happening. We are a family, going on a drive. This isn’t real. I must have fallen asleep in the car. No! Stop. Please stop. Please wake up! I scream into the chilly air. It’s cold. My breath should smoke. It doesn’t. I stare down at my wrist, the one that looks fine, untouched by blood and gore, and I pinch as hard as I can.

I don’t feel a thing.

I have had nightmares before—falling nightmares, playing-a-cello-recital-without-knowing-the-music nightmares, breakup-with-Adam nightmares—but I have always been able to command myself to open my eyes, to lift my head from the pillow, to halt the horror movie playing behind my closed lids. I try again. Wake up! I scream. Wake up! Wakeupwakeupwakeup! But I can’t. I don’t.

Then I hear something. It’s the music. I can still hear the music. So I concentrate on that. I finger the notes of Beethoven’s Cello Sonata no. 3 with my hands, as I often do when I listen to pieces I am working on. Adam calls it “air cello.” He’s always asking me if one day we can play a duet, him on air guitar, me on air cello. “When we’re done, we can thrash our air instruments,” he jokes. “You know you want to.”

I play, just focusing on that, until the last bit of life in the car dies, and the music goes with it.

It isn’t long after that the sirens come.

9:23 A.M.

Am I dead?

I actually have to ask myself this.

Am I dead?

At first it seemed obvious that I am. That the standing-here-watching part was temporary, an intermission before the bright light and the life-flashing-before-me business that would transport me to wherever I’m going next.

Except the paramedics are here now, along with the police and the fire department. Someone has put a sheet over my father. And a fireman is zipping Mom up into a plastic bag. I hear him discuss her with another firefighter, who looks like he can’t be more than eighteen. The older one explains to the rookie that Mom was probably hit first and killed instantly, explaining the lack of blood. “Immediate cardiac arrest,” he says. “When your heart can’t pump blood, you don’t really bleed. You seep.”

I can’t think about that, about Mom seeping. So instead I think how fitting it is that she was hit first, that she was the one to buffer us from the blow. It wasn’t her choice, obviously, but it was her way.

But am I dead? The me who is lying on the edge of the road, my leg hanging down into the gulley, is surrounded by a team of men and women who are performing frantic ablutions over me and plugging my veins with I do not know what. I’m half naked, the paramedics having ripped open the top of my shirt. One of my breasts is exposed. Embarrassed, I look away.

The police have lit flares along the perimeter of the scene and are instructing cars in both directions to turn back, the road is closed. The police politely offer alternate routes, back roads that will take people where they need to be.

They must have places to go, the people in these cars, but a lot of them don’t turn back. They climb out of their cars, hugging themselves against the cold. They appraise the scene. And then they look away, some of them  crying, one woman throwing up into the ferns on the side of the road. And even though they don’t know who we are or what has happened, they pray for us. I can feel them praying.

Which also makes me think I’m dead. That and the fact my body seems to be completely numb, though to look at me, at the leg that the 60 mph asphalt exfoliant has pared down to the bone, I should be in agony. And I’m not crying, either, even though I know that something unthinkable has just happened to my family. We are like Humpty Dumpty and all these king’s horses and all these king’s men cannot put us back together again.

I am pondering these things when the medic with the freckles and red hair who has been working on me answers my question. “Her Glasgow Coma is an eight. Let’s bag her now!” she screams.

She and the lantern-jawed medic snake a tube down my throat, attach a bag with a bulb to it, and start pumping. “What’s the ETA for Life Flight?”

“Ten minutes,” answers the medic. “It takes twenty to get back to town.”

“We’re going to get her there in fifteen if you have to speed like a fucking demon.”

I can tell what the guy is thinking. That it won’t do me any good if they get into a crash, and I have to agree. But he doesn’t say anything. Just clenches his jaw. They load me into the ambulance; the redhead climbs into the back with me. She pumps my bag with one hand, adjusts my  IV and my monitors with the other. Then she smooths a lock of hair from my forehead.

“You hang in there,” she tells me.

I played my first recital when I was ten. I’d been playing cello for two years at that point. At first, just at school, as part of the music program. It was a fluke that they even had a cello; they’re very expensive and fragile. But some old literature professor from the university had died and bequeathed his Hamburg to our school. It mostly sat in the corner. Most kids wanted to learn to play guitar or saxophone.

When I announced to Mom and Dad that I was going to become a cellist, they both burst out laughing. They apologized about it later, claiming that the image of pint-size me with such a hulking instrument between my spindly legs had made them crack up. Once they’d realized I was serious, they immediately swallowed their giggles and put on supportive faces.

But their reaction still stung—in ways that I never told them about, and in ways that I’m not sure they would’ve understood even if I had. Dad sometimes joked that the hospital where I was born must have accidentally swapped babies because I look nothing like the rest of my family. They are all blond and fair and I’m like their negative image, brown hair and dark eyes. But as I got older, Dad’s hospital joke took on more meaning than I think he  intended. Sometimes I did feel like I came from a different tribe. I was not like my outgoing, ironic dad or my tough-chick mom. And as if to seal the deal, instead of learning to play electric guitar, I’d gone and chosen the cello.

But in my family, playing music was still more important than the type of music you played, so when after a few months it became clear that my love for the cello was no passing crush, my parents rented me one so I could practice at home. Rusty scales and triads led to first attempts at “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” that eventually gave way to basic études until I was playing Bach suites. My middle school didn’t have much of a music program, so Mom found me a private teacher, a college student who came over once a week. Over the years there was a revolving batch of students who taught me, and then, as my skills surpassed theirs, my student teachers played with me.

This continued until ninth grade, when Dad, who’d known Professor Christie from when he’d worked at the music store, asked if she might be willing to offer me private lessons. She agreed to listen to me play, not expecting much, but as a favor to Dad, she later told me. She and Dad listened downstairs while I was up in my room practicing a Vivaldi sonata. When I came down for dinner, she offered to take over my training.

My first recital, though, was years before I met her. It was at a hall in town, a place that usually showcased local bands, so the acoustics were terrible for unamplified classical. I was playing a cello solo from Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy.”

Standing backstage, listening to other kids play scratchy violin and clunky piano compositions, I’d almost chickened out. I’d run to the stage door and huddled on the stoop outside, hyperventilating into my hands. My student teacher had flown into a minor panic and had sent out a search party.

Dad found me. He was just starting his hipster-to-square transformation, so he was wearing a vintage suit, with a studded leather belt and black ankle boots.

“You okay, Mia Oh-My-Uh?” he asked, sitting down next to me on the steps.

I shook my head, too ashamed to talk.

“What’s up?”

“I can’t do it,” I cried.

Dad cocked one of his bushy eyebrows and stared at me with his gray-blue eyes. I felt like some mysterious foreign species he was observing and trying to figure out. He’d been playing in bands forever. Obviously, he never  got something as lame as stage fright.

“Well, that would be a shame,” Dad said. “I’ve got a dandy of a recital present for you. Better than flowers.”

“Give it to someone else. I can’t go out there. I’m not like you or Mom or even Teddy.” Teddy was just six months old at that point, but it was already clear that he had more personality, more verve, than I ever would. And of course, he was blond and blue-eyed. Even if he weren’t,  he’d been born in a birthing center, not a hospital, so there was no chance of an accidental baby swapping.

“It’s true,” Dad mused. “When Teddy gave his first harp concert, he was cool as cucumber. Such a prodigy.”

I laughed through my tears. Dad put a gentle arm around my shoulder. “You know that I used to get the most ferocious jitters before a show.”

I looked at Dad, who always seemed absolutely sure of everything in the world. “You’re just saying that.”

He shook his head. “No, I’m not. It was god-awful. And I was the drummer, way in the back. No one even paid any attention to me.”

“So what did you do?” I asked.

“He got wasted,” Mom interjected, poking her head out the stage door. She was wearing a black vinyl miniskirt, a red tank top, and Teddy, droolingly happy from his Baby Björn. “A pair of forty-ouncers before the show. I don’t recommend that for you.”

“Your mother is probably right,” Dad said. “Social services frowns on drunk ten-year-olds. Besides, when I dropped my drumsticks and puked onstage, it was punk. If you drop your bow and smell like a brewery, it will look gauche. You classical-music people are so snobby that way.”

Now I was laughing. I was still scared, but it was somehow comforting to think that maybe stage fright was a trait I’d inherited from Dad; I wasn’t just some foundling, after all.

“What if I mess it up? What if I’m terrible?”

“I’ve got news for you, Mia. There’s going to be all kinds of terrible in there, so you won’t really stand out,” Mom said. Teddy gave a squeal of agreement.

“But seriously, how do you get over the jitters?”

Dad was still smiling but I could tell he had turned serious because he slowed down his speech. “You don’t. You just work through it. You just hang in there.”

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Meet the Author

Gayle Forman is an award-winning author and journalist whose articles have appeared in numerous publications, including Seventeen, Cosmopolitan, The Nation, and The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with her family.

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If I Stay 4.2 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 746 reviews.
TeensReadToo More than 1 year ago
Mia has a lot to love in life. She is a cellist who could be on her way to Julliard. She has a wonderful, loving, and supportive family. And she has a boyfriend who is perfect. But as wonderful as Mia's life is, she has choices to make. Should she go to Julliard and leave everyone behind? When a terrible accident occurs, Mia suddenly finds herself with only one choice left - should she stay? This book is just WOW! Do not read this in public because this one will bring tears to your eyes - I'm warning you! That doesn't mean it doesn't have humor though, because there were many times I found myself laughing out loud. This is an intense story that will not only appeal to teens, but have a lot of crossover adult appeal, as well. Gayle Forman does an excellent job going from Mia's present to Mia's past and drawing the reader in so they truly understand her love for the cello, her family, and Adam, her boyfriend. As I was reading, I felt like I really got to know Mia and her family and found myself grieving along with Mia - the writing is just that powerful. IF I STAY is a short read, but it packs so much in and I wanted to savor every moment. At times I found myself reading slower and drinking in the words because I didn't want the story to end. The story centers around music: Mia with her cello, Adam with his band, and Mia's dad being a drummer, and Gayle Forman's writing felt lyrical. She was able to capture music and put it into a book. I don't know how to describe it, but it was like I was reading a song - hopefully that makes sense! Music is such an important part of the book, Gayle Forman has included a playlist for the book on her website. I loved checking out the songs that went along with the story and listening to them when Mia did. IF I STAY is a must-read. The themes of love, loss, grief, and hope are so powerful and beautifully written that this story will stay with you long after you finish the last page.
BookLoverMV More than 1 year ago
All I can say is WOW. I finished this book at 2 AM this morning and I'm still thinking about how much it moved me. I cried several times and just fell in love with Mia and all those who surrounded her, "her family". It's a truly touching and a wonderful story, when I finished I was left wanting to know more about her families past adventures. And how Forman describes the families love of music drives you to want to pick up an instrument and learn to play. I enjoy all types of music and can't wait to check out Yo-Yo-Ma, aka "Yo Mama" per Adam. This is a great read and you will not be disappointed.
theReader278 More than 1 year ago
I loved reading this wonderful book! It is a story that keeps you entertained for hours.
Awesomeness1 More than 1 year ago
I've been wanting to read this book since it first came out, but was good and waited until it came out in the cheaper paperback. If I Stay is about 17 yr old Mia, a talented celloist, who is in a coma following a car accident that kills her entire family. While in this coma she must make the ultimate decision: stay alive with grief and an uncertain future or join her parents and brother in death I have to say this book isn't at all what I expected, and because of that, I may be a little disappointed. It was a surprisingly simple story. There was nothing supernatural about it and all the conflict was an internal struggle. It went back and forth between Mia's stay in the hospital, and her memories which only seemed to complicate her decision. Truthfully, I didn't find it all that entertaining. Good thing it read very quickly, or else I probably wouldn't have finished it. For some reason, it never asorbed me. Perhaps it was the meandering pace. Even the question of Mia's choice couldn't make me feel interested. Mia's memories served the purpose to give some background to Mia and help flesh out the story. I kind of felt that they were repetitive. They didn't show anything that couldn't be guessed atfrom the first chapter. Mia's loves her little brother. Mia loves her "hip" parents. Mia loves her punk boyfriend. Mia loves music. That's about it. I guessed I just missed out on the genius of it all. I'm hearing that it was "beautiful" and "beautifully written, and while I admit that it had more substance than most YA literature, I still wasn't feeling it. A blurb on the front cover said it "will appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight", and I don't see that at all. I didn't like Twilight, but these books are nothing alike. On top of it all, I hear Summit bought the movie rights to this book. Did I miss something?
ReadingRenee More than 1 year ago
Seventeen year old Mia Hall has it all. A loving family, an awesome best friend, and a wonderful boyfriend, but one mistake changes it all. Mia and her family get into a car crash with an unknown reason how. While Mia is rushed to the hospital all she is wondering is what happened to Teddy her ten year old brother . Once she figures out Teddy passed away and her parents died on the spot she can't think of a reason to stay. Of course her best friend and her boyfriend want her to stay, why wouldn't they. Mia's left fighting for her life while trying to think of a decision . Along the way she asked herself the same question that begins with "If I Stay".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was SO good. I liked the way it switched back and forth. I know some people didnt like the back and forth but I did.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is my absolute favorite book EVER! From page one I could NOT put it down, I was obsessed. Thank God it was a shorter book because I ignored family, and friends for a full 24 hours. I never re-read books and I'm tempted to buy this so I will have it. Any one who is looking for a good book, I recommend this one, always! I raved about it for weeks. Incredible, it really sucks you in and tugs on your heart strings. You feel nothing but powerful emotion throughout "If I Stay". So well written, so memorable.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved how the past was interweaved with the present, as this allowed us to get a glimpse into Mia's life before the accident, and to really get to know her. Mia is a strong and appealing character, and one which I think a lot of people will identify with. I also have to mention Adam, Mia's boyfriend. He's caring, thoughtful and the kind of person that we should all get to meet at some point or another. In fact, I think he might be my favorite part of the whole story.  This is a great book! I read it because I like to read the book before I see the movie, so my imagination colors the characters. Thoroughly enjoyed the story and didn't want to put the book (Kindle) down! Having been in the same situation, it was fun seeing the scenario from the other side. After the accident, Mia must make some serious decisions. That is kind of hard to do if she has no recollection of the life she had before. In this peril through time, loss, and love, you get to follow Mia as she finds herself. The above is typical of Gayle Forman's creative writing skills. She also manages to write a book that jumps back-and-forth between the present day and the past without confusing the reader. The story itself is an emotional roller-coaster and sure to spur discussion on choosing to "stay" or not after tragedy. A very well written book, highly recommended.     
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this book and highly recommend it! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was truly amazing. its one of my favorite movies. I just saw the movie which was also really wonderful, but I would definitely recommend reading the book first before seeing the movie. all in all the book and movie are both truly awesome! I also loved the writing style how it went from memories to her being in the hospital, and choosing if she wants to stay.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You must not be paying attention to the book at all if you can't figure out the present and past events in the book.  Reading the reviews for this book makes me so mad because I found the book to be one of the best I have ever read! Both this and where she went will be on my book shelf forever.  I fell in love with the characters and the whole story. I cried and laughed and whenever I cry while finishing up a book, I know it was a good one.  If you don't like this book, I'm sorry, you're missing out. Gayle Forman is a pure genius. I loved how it went from past to future, since everything did happen so fast in the beginning of the book.  I give this book five stars, if you are looking for a good tragedy and romance to read, pick this one up! YOU WON'T REGRET IT I PROMISE!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this book is amazing it is not confusing at all if your a good reader reading all the negitive comments almost made me not get it but me being a bookworm i got it anyway and im glad i did this book captured my attention all the way to the end so......READ THIS BOOK
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed this quick read. It's a young adult book, however as a 32 year old it's a story that transcends age. Very endearing characters.
MeAndMyBook More than 1 year ago
Beautifully written. This series as a whole held my attention throughout every single page. A story of disaster, love, loss and adventure. A definite must read.
MJSFX More than 1 year ago
I gave IF I STAY a 13///16. The plot was always interesting and I never wanted to put it down. The length was perfect. not to long not to short. The title didn't make sense until her grandpa talked to her. The ending told you nothing that happened and if you didn't see the movie the end of the book wouldn't make sense at all. I saw the movie so it made sense to me. read this book and you wont regret it. I recommend this book to people +12.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How would you feel if your life changed in a blink of an eye? How would you feel if you knew that all your loved ones were gone?  Or if you had a huge decision to make that would change your entire life? Thats exactly how 17 year old Mia Hall felt.  Mia and her family were visiting an old family friend  when they got into a horrible car wreck.  No one in the Hall family survived. Except Mia.  She ended up in a coma and is having out of body experience.  She observes her friends and family at the hospital where she is, while  analyzing the huge decision she must make.  Should she stay with the support of friends,  or should she join her family and go? -pallavi prodhan
COBauer More than 1 year ago
Holy Wow. Talk about an emotional rollercoaster! Didn’t quite rip my heart out as much as “The Fault in Our Stars” did, but this was a close second. The accident scene was REALLY hard to get through. Seriously well written and extremely powerful. I had to take a few breaks to get some deep breaths. It’s not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned. If you can stay (sorry, sometimes I crack jokes to work through the feels)… it’s well worth it. “If I Stay” is a compelling, beautiful and gut-wrenching story of love and hope. Each person felt completely real to me. I completely transformed into Mia while I read this. I felt every tiny little thing as she was feeling it. It’s not easy to transport a reader into the protagonist’s shoes. Well done, Ms. Forman. But seriously, “If I Stay” is a MUST read!
susie_d More than 1 year ago
There is only one word that comes to mind to describe this book.beautiful. The story is beautiful. The writing is beautiful. There is just no other word for it. One of the things that I loved about this book is how it did not just focus on Mia's relationship with Adam. Mia's flashbacks covered all the aspects in her life family, her best friend, Adam, music, her future. I thought it was pretty cool that Mia and her family were all musically talented. In fact, I actually felt a little jealous and guilty that I don't play an instrument. I tried to learn how to play the acoustic guitar a few years ago, but I just didn't have the patience. Now my guitar is sitting in the corner collecting dust and waiting for me to pick it up again. Anyway, this was a quick, compelling, and moving read that will stay with you well after you have finished it.
LOLA21 More than 1 year ago
All of the other reviews made me want to buy this book. They said I would cry and laugh, if theres one thing I love about a book is for it to engross me in such a way that I feel like the characters are real people that I know and care about which as a result make me cry and laugh along the way. This book didn't have that factr for me. It kind of draged on a bit and I don't feel like there was anything that poped in this book no climax no nothing. However it was well written which is what got me through it. On the other hand, I felt like some things in this book were very out there to me considered every day life happenings in my opinion. In conclusion I feel you should go to the bookstore sit down, drink a latte, and read some of this book before purchasing so you don't feel disappointed.
atran61 More than 1 year ago
If I Stay by Gayle Forman was filled of love, friendship, family, loss, control, and coping. Mia, the protagonist, had a loving family, an adoring boyfriend, and a bright future full of music. She is caught between life and death, between a happy past and an unknowable future, Mia will have to make the most important decision in her life. If I Stay had its parts. The beginning really caught your attention. But, towards the middle it started to get boring. It's one of those books where you just want to skip 100 pages and find out what happens at the end. I wouldn't say it's an "unforgettable" book. It's just one of those books you've "read before."
bookduck More than 1 year ago
The three words that best describe this book are short, sweet, and beautiful. If I Stay takes place in Oregon, where a dusting of snow can close schools and cause car crashes-which is exactly what happens within the first twenty pages of the book. Mia's-the main character's-body is gravely injured, and she finds herself detached from it. Mia watches as her body is loaded into the ambulance. She sees herself in the hospital bed and watches her family and friends visit her and wonder if she will live. At one point, Mia hears one of the nurses speak to her grandparents: "You might think that the doctors or nurses or all this is running the show," she [the nurse] says, gesturing at the wall of medical equipment. "Nuh-uh. She's running the show ." Shortly after, Mia realizes that the nurse is right: She decides whether she stays or goes, lives or dies. If I Stay follows Mia through her memories and thoughts as she makes this difficult decision. I really enjoyed If I Stay. It's gentle, quiet, and even funny. The prose is clean and descriptive, and I had no problem suspending my disbelief as I watched Mia wander around outside her body; If I Stay is a wonderful balance of reality and magical realism. Mia is a dedicated cellist, her father used to be in a band, and her boyfriend, Adam, is a guitarist in an up-and-coming band. Music and the love of it permeate the novel. Moreover, the cast of characters, from the major to the minor, is fantastic, real, and vivid. Their relationships with one another are fully drawn; Mia's relationship with her family is warm and loving, and the love between Mia and Adam is genuine. I'm also a big fan of Mia's best friend, Kim. Some of my favorite scenes, however, involved Mia's parents, and If I Stay is as much about them as it is about her as they change their lives for their kids. If I Stay has its PG-13 moments as far as Mia and Adam are concerned, but these are handled with class: there are no overly descriptive scenes of love. Any crude language is used realistically, and there is no swearing for the sake of swearing. Mia is not terribly religious, and her musings are handled with grace. While lacking in constant suspense and occasionally slow-moving, If I Stay is worth the short time it takes to read this slim book. Although I didn't always feel an intense emotional connection with Mia, tears stung my eyes on more than one occasion. My recommendation? Take the journey with Mia as she grapples with love of music and Adam, family and friends; life and death and all the philosophical questions in between. You won't be sorry you did.
ssteiner86 21 days ago
Katrina_Hovakimyan 11 months ago
Gayle Forman’s writing has really impressed many, starting from If I Stay to Where She Went, which is the continuation of If I Stay, but with a twist, Where She Went is from Adam’s point of view. The way Gayle describes every moment really helps the reader feel as if they are in the book watching over the characters. Her writing opens up the readers’ imagination and allows them to picture every moment in their heads perfectly. Every action and position portrayed is specifically set up in the readers’ mind and they have a little movie playing in their heads. This isn’t like most books with regular chapters, the entire story is set by times and has constant flashbacks from Mia’s memories with her boyfriend, Adam, her best friend, Kim, and her family. Almost half of the book consists of her memories randomly approaching into the mix. Starting with 7:09am If I Stay starts off introducing Mia, the main character, a devoted cellist, and her family. She has a little brother, Teddy, and not so average parents due to their rock n’ roll past. A snow day starts off the setting and school is cancelled which means her father is home as well because he dropped his crazy life style for his family and became a teacher. Mia’s mother decides to stay home too and they plan to visit old friends and have dinner with their grandparents. At, 8:17am the family gets on the road and the only thought is what music should be playing. Of course her parents want some rock n’ roll while Mia wants Beethoven and Teddy, well he wants Spongebob. Completely unexpected, a huge truck crashes into the family car. I feel that after the crash everything has changed and Mia is now simply running around and chasing her body and her family’s bodies around. When you begin reading, you will believe that this book is going to be happy with a few issues here and there, but that is obviously not the case. The accident along with the memories with her boyfriend, Adam, give off a sad vibe. It may be weird, but this book can relate to many, not in the sense where there was a car accident and we have a choice whether to stay or leave, but we make choices everyday. This choice is just a matter of life and death and on an everyday basis, we can’t really choose to stay or leave our lives unless you believe suicide is the way to go with your life. We make hard decisions every second, whether it is how to help someone or whether to help them at all. Difficult situations could be like choosing to end a relationship. I can relate this book to a relationship because although you have troubles and many things have occurred, many will still try to make it work even though there have been so many troubles that have hurt the both of them. Leaving can seem like an easy choice but there is more pain in leaving if you do not want to actually do it or you will miss too much. Leaving can affect your life more intensely than imagined and hurt more than what the original problem was. I feel that she would want to die and leave with her family. Staying and dealing with the losses is more difficult than leaving with them. They can be together in the after life instead of her staying behind while her poor family has left the world. She believes she will be alone if she chooses to stay, but does not realize she has her grandparents, aunt, uncle, Kim, and Adam all by her side. There are more decisions that Mia has to make in the book; it is not only about life and death. She must decide whether she wants
Andrea17 More than 1 year ago
If I Stay is a rather quick read - I read it in a matter of hours - because it's both short and engrossing. Unless you've been living under a rock, you know the premise of the novel. Mia and her family are involved in a fatal car accident that leaves her in some form of purgatory. Her body is unconscious, but her consciousness (?) is aware and drifting around the hospital watching her friends and family through an exceptionally emotional and dramatic time. Mia's life story is told through a variety of flashbacks, typically inspired by those who are coming to visit her in the hospital or things they have said. I thoroughly enjoyed this type of storytelling as it allows us to feel what Mia was feeling and learn about her and her family. We were able to connect with her in a way we wouldn't have been able to in a linear format. The memories themselves aren't linear, jumping from just a few months ago to being in the delivery room when her mother gives birth to Teddy and back. Mia seems to have had a wonderful life, surrounded by love, and has she has these memories and sees her family surrounding her she is faced with the decision as to whether or not to stay. She is fully aware that if she does, nothing will be the same. But at the same time, is she ready to leave everybody behind? We don't get too much characterization of the other characters, but the peaks into Mia's life let us know that leaving them behind will not be an easy choice for her to make. It's not a big secret that Mia lives (the sequel Where She Went that takes place between Mia and Adam three years later), but that doesn't take away from the emotional impact of If I Stay. I don't think you could read it and not be affected in some way.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book made me appreciate life more, a must read for anyone !'