Mia, in a panic, asks herself whether or not she is dead, and thinks she must be in a kind of purgatory—waiting before being sent on to the next stage of death. When the paramedics arrive, Mia overhears a senior firefighter explain to a junior officer that Mom was most likely hit first, and died instantly. Paramedics work frantically on Mia’s body, ripping her clothing open and leaving her body exposed. Mia, watching, feels embarrassed.
We aren’t given much explanation for Mia’s very specific out-of-body, near death experience, but she at least starts to discover the “rules” of her situation as the book progresses. Without agency over her own physical body, Mia feels embarrassed by being exposed by the paramedics.
Cars stop along the side of the road to view the damage. Some people get out of their cars, and one woman throws up at the sight of the carnage, while others pray. Mia is convinced she’s dead because, given her injuries, she should be in agony. But she feels absolutely nothing while she watches herself being worked on. The medics load her into an ambulance, saying that they will drive her to a nearby hospital, where she will then be airlifted to another hospital.
Seeing other people’s reactions to her own injuries makes Mia believe she is dead, especially as she herself feels no pain. In a way, feeling the physical pain of her injuries would help her to validate and cope with the emotional pain of losing her parents.
In the first flashback of the novel, Mia remembers herself at age ten, when she first fell in love with the cello. Her parents laughed at the idea of such a tiny girl playing such a large instrument, a reaction that has stung her for years, despite her parents’ subsequent apologies. Mia notes that she often feels out of place as a dark-haired classical music lover in a family of fair-haired punk rockers, and has sometimes wondered whether she was switched at birth.
In the face of the loss of her parents and her own potential death, Mia (whether willingly or not) turns to flashbacks to recall key moments in her life. Despite her parents’ punk-rock past, she fell in love with the cello and classical music of her own accord, a passion that sometimes makes her feel out of place in her family.
Despite their initial incredulousness, Mia’s parents supported her musical talents, and ensured that she was always able to study the cello privately with college students. When she surpassed the abilities of the college students at around age fourteen, Mia’s studies were taken over by Professor Christie, a friend of Mia’s Dad who was surprised by the level of Mia’s talent, given her age.
Mia’s parents support her decision to study the cello, and Mia’s Dad uses his music connections in the area to find Mia a cello teacher. Music is an integral part of the family dynamic.
Mia recalls her first recital, years before she ever worked with Professor Christie, when she was around age eight. Terrified of the thought of playing onstage, Mia runs away before her performance. Dad finds her and tells her that he, too, used to get terrible stage fright before performing as a drummer for his rock band. This admission makes Mia feel less out of place in her family, as she reasons that she perhaps inherited stage fright from her father. He tells her there’s no cure for stage fright, but that you need to just “hang in there.” Mia plays the recital without a hitch. Afterwards, her parents present her with a new cello of her own.
Mia’s first cello recital is formative for a number of reasons. Firstly, Mia feels closer with her father after discovering they both suffer from stage fright. Secondly, it is the first time she successfully performs in front of an audience, and thirdly, her parents present her with her own cello after the performance. This shows that they definitely support her classical music studies—even if they can’t relate to them.