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.
Sacrifice and Choice ThemeTracker
Sacrifice and Choice Quotes in If I Stay
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’d actually rather go off with my family. This is another thing you don’t advertise about yourself, but Adam gets that, too.
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.
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.
A small part of me felt like even applying was some kind of betrayal. Juilliard was in New York. Adam was here.
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.
“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.”
And that’s how I know. Teddy. He’s gone, too.
“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.”
Dad was wrong. It’s true you might not get to control your funeral, but sometimes you do get to choose your death.
“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.”
“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?”
“…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.”
“I can lose you like that if I don’t lose you today. I’ll let you go. If you 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.