The novel switches between present-tense narration at the hospital and Mia’s past-tense memories. Why might the author have structured the novel in this way?
In If I Stay, Mia's narration switches between her present-tense timeline at the hospital and her past-tense memories of her family and friends. This structural choice reflects the power of Mia's memories as she processes her new reality as an orphan. In the present, she is forced to live with her family's absence, while in the past, she can keep her family alive in memory. Mia must choose between disappearing from existence along with her family, or living with the pain of her grief. In this way, the structural switches between present and past reflect Mia's internal conflict.
Why is the cello significant to Mia?
Mia's inexplicable affinity for the cello represents her individuality. Although her parents and Adam play guitar and prefer rock music, Mia has always been drawn to classical music and instrumentation. Mia is not sure why she is drawn to cello, which provokes feelings of insecurity and shame. However, Mia learns over time to embrace her love of cello, which is symbolic of the ways in which she learns to embrace her differences from other people. Her love of cello had first seemed to be a flaw, but later proves to be one of Mia's greatest strengths, as it allows her to embrace her individuality and feel confident.
In what ways are the concepts of free will and determinism significant to If I Stay?
At the heart of Mia's conflict is the philosophical debate between humans' ability to choose between courses of action unimpeded (free will) and the belief that behavior is predetermined by causes outside human control (determinism). Mia believes she has the ability to exercise free will in choosing whether to stay alive or die, but meanwhile, she has no apparent control over her injured body, which the doctors and nurses are struggling to keep breathing. Ultimately, Mia decides not to stay. However, when Adam puts headphones over her ears, Mia doesn't follow through on her plan. The sound of the music provokes an involuntary explosion of memories and visions of the future. This external influence forces Mia's consciousness to reenter her body. Therefore, it is unclear whether she has actually decided to live, or has followed a fate determined by forces beyond her control.
Why does If I Stay begin with two past-tense sentences before the narration switches to present tense?
If I Stay establishes a sense of tension through dramatic irony in its opening lines. Mia concedes that "it" happened because of the snow, but does not specify what "it" is. By having Mia alluding to the event that sets the plot in motion in this ambiguous way, the author creates a sense of tension; the reader doesn't know of the car crash that kills Mia's family, but the reader knows more than Mia's family as they go through the motions of their morning routine. The technique entices the reader to continue reading while simultaneously casting an ominous mood over the domestic scene that precedes the car crash.
What role does love play in If I Stay?
As one of the book's major themes, love—in its many forms—plays a significant role in If I Stay. When Mia reflects on her life, she contrasts the love strengthened by a lifetime of family bonds with the new and uncertain love she cultivates with Adam. Beneath her memories and interrogations of Adam's love is a question: is Adam's affection and support enough to help Mia through the pain of having lost her family? Although both Mia and Adam acknowledge the complications in their relationship and the tragedy of Mia having survived her family, the novel's climactic ending suggests that Adam and Mia's love may be enough for her to cling to life and persevere despite her pain.