If I Stay

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Sacrifice and Choice Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Sacrifice and Choice Theme Icon
Music and Harmony  Theme Icon
Love, Family, and Relationships  Theme Icon
Life and Death  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in If I Stay, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Sacrifice and Choice Theme Icon

If I Stay is a novel that explores the kinds of sacrifices that inevitably accompany choices. As a teenager, Mia is at the crossroads of many major life decisions. For example, as a talented cellist, Mia has to decide whether to pursue her study of the instrument at Juilliard in New York City, or whether she will remain with her boyfriend, Adam, in the Pacific Northwest. Other characters have important choices to make as well, like Mia’s Dad, who quits the band he has been part of for years in order to pursue a degree in teaching and better provide for his growing family. The consequence of this decision is that his friend Harry, whom he has played with in the band for years, becomes very angry at what he perceives to be disloyalty. However, Harry comes to understand Mia’s father’s decision when he himself becomes a father. The novel thus suggests that as we grow and take on more responsibilities, it becomes necessary to make choices not just for ourselves, but also for the welfare of the people around us.

Of course, in the wake of a car accident that kills her parents and brother and puts Mia in a coma, the major decision facing Mia is whether she will remain in the land of the living—with her grandparents Gran and Gramps, her best friend Kim, her boyfriend Adam, and her future with classical cello—or if she will move on to death to join her Mom, Dad, and brother Teddy. If Mia continues to live, she will get to live out the hopes and dreams her parents had for her, but will have to cope with the pain of her loss. If she goes on to die, losing Mia and her entire immediate family will further devastate those close to her. This central, fundamental choice that Mia must make gives the novel much of its drama. Yet with all of the different sorts of choices faced by so many different characters in the novel, the profound choice Mia faces here also serves as a metaphor for the fact that in life, one will always have to make decisions that result in difficult consequences, and those choices inevitably result in also making sacrifices. While two choices in life may seem equally appealing, pursuing both options is often impossible, and there are consequences involved in what is lost—and gained—when choosing one path over another. It is therefore a part of life and growing up that we must cope with the consequences of the decisions we make, and the sacrifice of what we choose to leave behind.

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Sacrifice and Choice ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Sacrifice and Choice appears in each chapter of If I Stay. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Sacrifice and Choice Quotes in If I Stay

Below you will find the important quotes in If I Stay related to the theme of Sacrifice and Choice.
7:09 AM Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Adam Wilde
Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:
On the morning of a snow day off from school, Mia's Dad points out a photo of Adam, Mia's boyfriend, in the newspaper. Adam is part of a local band, Shooting Star, that is quickly gaining popularity in the area. In this quote, seeing Adam and his success reminds Mia of some upcoming changes and choices in her life: if she is accepted to the prestigious Juilliard School in New York City, in order to pursue classical cello, she and Adam will have to decide whether to stay together or whether to break up due to the distance. Since Adam's entire band and fan base is in the Pacific Northwest, there is no chance of him joining her in New York City. Although the admissions decision has not yet arrived, the prospect of a change has already caused strain on Adam and Mia's relationship in the last few months. Though the cello is one of the most important things in her life, so is her relationship with Adam. Throughout the novel, Mia is frequently concerned about having to choose the cello over Adam, or the other way around, and often grapples with the pros and cons of moving to NYC, or remaining in Oregon with her family and Adam. 

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I’d actually rather go off with my family. This is another thing you don’t advertise about yourself, but Adam gets that, too.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Adam Wilde
Page Number: 10
Explanation and Analysis:

When the Hall family wakes up to discover a light snowfall—enough to close school for the day—they quickly decide to spend the day together. They decide to visit family friends Willow and Henry, who have a new baby girl, followed by a trip to the bookstore and dinner with their grandparents. In this quote, Mia acknowledges that she will always choose to spend time with her family over anything else. She also acknowledges that as a senior in high school, most other kids her age would pick friends over family. Mia recognizes that she might be making an "uncool" choice, but she seems confident enough to make that choice easily—and Adam, her idealized boyfriend, supports and understands her.

8:17 AM Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Kat Hall (Mom) , Denny Hall (Dad), Teddy Hall
Related Symbols: Punk Rock and Classical Music
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:
With a free day off from school and work due to the snow, Mia's family decides to visit family friends Willow and Henry. In the car, they debate over what music to listen to during the drive. While everyone in the family loves music, they often dispute over what kinds of music to listen to, as represented in this quote—one of many instances of choice in terms of music, and compromise in terms of harmony. As shown in this example, the family members are close enough that they are always willing to compromise. In this quote, the compromise is Shooting Star, the local band that Mia's boyfriend Adam plays in. This instance is representative of the harmony that the family maintains in nearly every situation, despite their varying preferences. 
9:23 AM Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Cello, Punk Rock and Classical Music
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

When she was eight years old, Mia fell in love with the cello: she was drawn to the human-like shape of the instrument, and felt passionate about the music she could make in tandem with its strings. At first, her parents were incredulous about such a small girl playing a rather large instrument, particularly one that was so different from the punk rock music that they loved and listened to. However, their love of Mia meant that they were willing to put aside musical preferences to support their daughter in her interests.Though Mia never doubted that her parents were proud of her, she always felt slightly out of place among the punk, outgoing personalities of her Mom and Dad. To her, her parents' punk-rock lifestyle and her classical pursuits seemed to mean that she was inherently "uncool," despite the family she was born into. Yet, this discomfort is not enough to dissuade her from pursuing the kind of music that she loves. Once again, this quote is an example of how Mia finds herself making choices and separating herself from others, but also compromising and finding harmony with her family and friends.

12:19 PM Quotes

A small part of me felt like even applying was some kind of betrayal. Juilliard was in New York. Adam was here.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Adam Wilde
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

When it comes time to apply for college, Mia feels very torn between staying in Oregon with Adam and her family, and pursuing her dreams of playing the cello professionally in New York City. As a very talented cellist, she knows deep down that there is a chance that she could be accepted to the prestigious Julliard School, all the way across the country. If her application were to prove successful, she would find it very difficult to choose between following her dreams and continuing to stay in Oregon with those she loves. Adam, also a musician, plays in a popular local band called Shooting Star. As their fan base is on the rise in the Pacific Northwest, there is no possibility of Adam following Mia to New York. Mia feels that in even just applying to Juilliard and entertaining the idea of moving away from home, she is "betraying" her relationship with Adam. She therefore keeps her application a secret from Adam until she finds out that her preliminary audio tape has earned her an audition in San Francisco.

4:47 PM Quotes

I didn’t mind. I was excited about a baby. And I knew that Carnegie Hall wasn’t going anywhere. I’d get there someday.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Teddy Hall
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

When Mia's mother finds out that she is pregnant with Teddy, the family cancels an impending trip to New York City. Mia's parents have always been very open about the fact that neither Mia nor Teddy were planned pregnancies, a hallmark of their easygoing and spontaneous attitudes. This quote is representative of how important Teddy has always been in Mia's life, even before she was born. Though she was very excited to visit Carnegie Hall (a famous concert hall, and thus a dream for the ambitious, cello-playing Mia) and see New York City for the first time, her excitement and understanding about missing the trip due to the prospect of having a sibling trumped any feelings of disappointment. Despite her love of the cello, Mia's deep love of family has always come first. 

5:40 PM Quotes

“Mia, Mia, Mia,” he said, stroking the tendrils of my hair that had escaped from the wig. “This is the you I like. You definitely dressed sexier and are, you know, blond, and that’s different. But the you who you are tonight is the same you I was in love with yesterday, the same you I’ll be in love with tomorrow. I love that you’re fragile and tough, quiet and kick-ass. Hell, you’re one of the punkest girls I know, no matter who you listen to or what you wear.”

Related Characters: Adam Wilde (speaker), Mia Hall
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:

When Adam's band plays a show at a popular local venue on Halloween, Mia decides to go all out with her costume. With Mom's help, she dresses up as a sexy punk rock chick. As she's always felt out of place at Shooting Star's crazy concerts, Mia hopes that Adam will be impressed with her attempt to fit in with the other punk rockers. When he sees her after the show, he is shocked at her appearance, but in this quote, he tells her that he loves her for who she usually is, not for who she dresses up as. Though Mia is often worried that she's not "cool" enough for Adam, who is older and in a rock band, Adam explains that he loves her for her quiet intensity, which makes her one of the "punkest" girls he knows, despite her tamer wardrobe and musical choices. It is Adam and Mia's mutual respect and acceptance of each other allows their relationship to thrive, despite the differences in their musical tastes. 

9:06 PM Quotes

And that’s how I know. Teddy. He’s gone, too.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Teddy Hall
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:

Though Mia is happy to see Willow stick up for Adam and Kim, she is struck by the realization that Willow's presence in the hospital means that she no longer needs to be at the hospital where she works as a nurse. Mia had been certain that Willow was there taking care of Teddy. If she no longer needs to be at the hospital, Mia realizes, this means that Teddy has died. While Mia could tell that her parents had died upon the impact of the crash, she held onto the hope that Teddy would survive. Now, Mia knows that her entire immediate family has died in the crash—knowledge that will make her decision whether to stay or to leave very difficult. If she were to remain alive, she would have to deal with the grief of losing her entire family. If she were to leave, she would sacrifice her entire future with the cello, Adam, Kim, and her grandparents, but could at least be on the "other side" with Teddy, Mom, and Dad. As Teddy's older sister, she has always been very protective of him, and so she is distraught by the prospect of him scared and dying alone. She hopes that wherever he is, he is being comforted by Mom, Dad, and other relatives that have passed away. 

10:40 PM Quotes

“In my ideal scenario, my bighearted pushover husband and I die quickly and simultaneously when we’re ninety-two years old…Mia plays at our funeral. If, that is, we can tear her away from the New York Philharmonic.”

Related Characters: Kat Hall (Mom) (speaker), Mia Hall, Denny Hall (Dad)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:

In the car on the way home from a funeral, Mia's family begins to discuss what kind of funerals they hope to have one day. In this quote, Mom notes that she hopes to die at the same time as Dad, and to have Mia play for the funeral. This quote is one of morbid foreshadowing to the crash that is to happen years later: Mom and Dad do die at the same time, and if Mia decides to stay, there is a possibility that she would play at the funeral. This particular memory highlights the often dark irony of life—Mom will perhaps get her wish for her funeral, though several decades prior to when she hoped she would die. Mia recalls this conversation as she weighs the pros and cons of staying or leaving, because it represents how fleeting life can be—someone as vivacious as Mom can be here one moment, and gone in the blink of an eye. 

Dad was wrong. It’s true you might not get to control your funeral, but sometimes you do get to choose your death.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker), Denny Hall (Dad)
Page Number: 173
Explanation and Analysis:
While in the car on the way back from a family friend's funeral, Mom is furious about the sentimental and religious nature of the service. She believes that the friend, who was an atheist, would have been very upset at the funeral his family set up for him. Dad gently counters Mom and points out that no one gets to choose how their funeral goes, since it only happens after they are gone. In this quote, Mia recalls Dad's words in the course of her decision whether to stay or to leave the world of the living. Once she realizes the terms of her coma—it is her choice whether she will join her parents in death, or to wake up and continue living—she thinks about the humorous, if morbid, conversation in which she and her family discussed their funerals. For all their talk of death, Mia never thought that she would have any say about when or how she would die. In remembering an instance when she realized her father was wrong about the terms of life and death, Mia further realizes how this choice is entirely her decision—a moment of growth, and separation, from the world in which she relied on the advice of her parents. 
2:48 AM Quotes

“It’s okay,” he tells me. “If you want to go. Everyone wants you to stay. I want you to stay more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my life…But that’s what I want and I could see why it might not be what you want. So I just wanted to tell you that I understand if you go. It’s okay if you have to leave us. It’s okay if you want to stop fighting.”

Related Characters: Gramps (speaker), Mia Hall
Page Number: 181
Explanation and Analysis:

Gramps goes to visit Mia in her hospital bed, this time without Gran. Mia, via her out-of-body experience, can see and hear what Gramps is saying to her comatose body. In this quote, he tells her that he would understand if she made the decision to leave the world of the living, rather than stay. Gramps saying this to Mia is significant because thus far in the hospital, people have been urging Mia to stay alive without acknowledging the pain of loss that she will have to deal with for the rest of her life. This quote is also significant because Gramps, though supportive and loving, is not a man of many words—but when he does speak, such as now, he says exactly what Mia needs to hear. While Gramps' understanding is enormously comforting, it also makes Mia's decision to leave even harder—how could she leave Gramps and Gran behind? Ultimately, when Mia does choose to stay, one major factor in her decision is the knowledge that she will still have a family to support her through the grief of losing Mom, Dad, and Teddy. 

“I’d played that part of my life out. It was time. I didn’t even think twice about it, in spite of what Gramps or Henry might think. Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you. Does that make any sense?”

Related Characters: Denny Hall (Dad) (speaker), Gramps , Henry
Page Number: 192
Explanation and Analysis:

When Teddy is born, Dad makes the decision to leave the rock band that he has played in for many years. This makes his best friend who is also in the band, Henry, very angry with him. It also makes Gramps, who loved listening to Dad's music, very sad as well. In this quote, Dad responds to Mia's question as to why he made this decision. Dad explains to Mia that for him, it wasn't even a decision—it was simply time for him to move on with his life, and focus on his family and being a good father to Mia and Teddy. In the course of making her decision whether to stay or to leave, Mia recalls this conversation because of Dad's quip that "sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you." Here he means that sometimes in life, we don't have a choice in what happens, and it is up to us to make the most of a bad situation so one situation doesn't change us completely. When Mia decides to stay, it is ultimately because of an outpouring of love that has shown her that she must go on living in order to keep the memories of her family alive, and to see where the future takes her. 

4:57 AM Quotes

“…I do know that if you want to stay and be with him, I’d support that, though maybe I’m only saying that because I don’t think you’d be able to turn down Juilliard. But I’d understand if you chose love, Adam love, over music love. Either way you win. And either way you lose. What can I tell you? Love’s a bitch.”

Related Characters: Kat Hall (Mom) (speaker), Mia Hall, Adam Wilde
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Mia and Mom discuss the difficult choice that Mia has coming up: whether to move to NYC to pursue the cello (if she is accepted to Julliard) or to stay in Oregon and attend a state school closer to Adam. This quote is significant because it parallels the extremely difficult choice that Mia must imminently make: whether to stay alive, or to join her parents and brother in death. Like with the choice between "Adam love" and "music love," each option has significant pros and cons. Mia recalls this quote because of the unconditional support that Mom always gave to her. Regardless of what she chooses, Mia knows that she has an immense amount of love waiting for her on the side of life or on the side of death. With either option she wins, and with either option she loses. The decision between life and death, like love, is a "bitch." 

7:16 AM Quotes

“I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you stay.”

Related Characters: Adam Wilde (speaker), Mia Hall
Page Number: 231
Explanation and Analysis:
Adam, who has been crying, comes into Mia's hospital room and collapses next to her bed. Worried that she is about to die, he tells her comatose body that he loves her and that if she survives, he is willing to quit Shooting Star and move to New York with her. In this quote, he also tells Mia that if she survives and decides to leave him when she moves to New York, he will understand her decision. As all of Adam's musical dreams remain in Oregon, this is a huge declaration of love—Adam is willing to give up the band he loves in order to be with the girl that he loves. However, his selflessness also shows in this speech, as he says that as long as Mia is alive, he will also understand if she wants to end the relationship to focus on the cello in New York. It is in this moment that Adam's true devotion to Mia is revealed: as long as she is alive and well, he will be happy, regardless of whether they continue to be in a relationship or not. It is this declaration of sacrifice and selflessness that ultimately convinces Mia to stay. 

Yo-Yo Ma continues to play, and it’s like the piano and cello are being poured into my body, the same way that the IV and blood transfusions are. And the memories of my life as it was, and the flashes of it as it might be, are coming so fast and furious. I feel like I can no longer keep up with them but they keep coming and everything is colliding, until I cannot take it anymore. Until I cannot be like this one second longer.

Related Characters: Mia Hall (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Cello, Punk Rock and Classical Music
Page Number: 232
Explanation and Analysis:

In a last-ditch effort to rouse Mia out of her coma, Adam puts headphones over Mia's ears. He presses "play" on an iPod, and the music of Yo-Yo Ma (whom they saw in concert for their first date) floods her ears. Despite all of the reminiscing and flashbacks that Mia has thought of during the last few hours since the accident, it is this music that triggers the most emotion. It is this overwhelming feeling of how much she loves music, and how much she loved making and feeling this music with the people around her, that brings Mia to the place where she knows without a doubt that she cannot leave. She knows that to honor the memories of her family, it is her duty to remain alive—this way, she can continue to make music and keep that love alive. Though Teddy, Mom, and Dad are gone, music, combined with the love of the friends and family members who remain alive, will transport her to a place of comfort, even in the face of grief.