Mia’s life was going pretty well until one day. The day her entire family is involved in a car crash. She can only stand by and watch as the ambulance crew bundle her damaged body into the back and rush her off to hospital. Is she dead? As she follows herself, she comes to realise there is a choice to be made and only she can make it.
I pretty much wept my way through If I Stay from start to finish; what a touching portrayal of family life set against the most awful tragedy. The narrative is split between Mia’s out of body experience and flashbacks her past. Oddly enough, it was those past memories of her family, and the things they did for her, that got me teared up most. Knowing that they were gone made them all the more poignant. Her time in the hospital feels a bit detached, but that reflects her physical detachment from her body. It’s an effective way to follow a character in the aftermath of trauma, both mental and physical.
I thought the boyfriend aspect was going to be excess to requirements but he ended up fitting with the overall story. Mia’s mother comments at one point that it is such an inconvenient time to fall in love, and that is so true. Your late teenage years are full of life-changing decisions and the complication of another person having to make their own choices, really muddies the waters. Mia’s choice to stay or go is two-fold. She had a similar choice to make before the accident, the one that will be familiar to many teens making decisions about their education and futures.
Her current choice is one we hope we would never have to make. The story is a way to address the feelings of not being able to go on after tragedy without having the character being actively suicidal. It skirts around the topic of suicide quite well.
Music is also a repeating theme throughout. Mia is a talented cellist, Adam is in an up-and-coming band and her father gave up his life in music for the family. There are plenty of references to music but it never felt forced or trying to be cool. Indeed, Mia’s favourite music is classical and for once I could play the soundtrack to her story in my head.
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