"Everyone thinks it was because of the snow. And in a way, I suppose that's true."
In the novel's opening lines, Mia reflects on what caused the car accident that sets the plot in motion. By hinting at the tragedy to come before switching into a present-tense scene in which the family are still alive, Mia establishes a sense of tension. In this example of dramatic irony, the reader knows something is about to occur while the characters (other than Mia, in her narration) remain oblivious.
"You wouldn’t expect the radio to work afterward. But it does."
In this passage, Mia's narration moves abruptly from the peace and comfort she felt while listening to classical music in her parents' warm car to the sudden and shocking aftermath of the wreck. The car has been eviscerated and her parents' dead bodies are scattered over the road, yet the classical radio station continues playing. This example of auditory imagery presents a stark contrast against the horror of the wreck, adding an extra layer of surreality to Mia's experience of the accident.
"Which also makes me think I’m dead. That and the fact my body seems to be completely numb, though to look at me, at the leg that the 60 mph asphalt exfoliant has pared down to the bone, I should be in agony. And I’m not crying, either, even though I know that something unthinkable has just happened to my family."
In this passage, Mia is appraising the scene of the accident while wondering whether she is dead. She understands that something terrible has happened, but her detached and shocked consciousness seems immune to pain and sorrow. The surreal detachment Mia feels is enhanced by the darkly humorous description of her mutilated body having been "exfoliated" by the rough road surface.
"'So, what? I’m like a social experiment to you?' I meant it to be jokey, but it came out sounding bitter."
This quotation is taken from Mia's memory of her and Adam's first date. What she intends as a joke comes out as hostile, because she is apprehensive about trusting Adam. This passage is significant because it touches on the theme of social belonging: Mia's instinctive response reveals her fear of not belonging to Adam's social set, and her uncertainty about his intentions.
"'Please don’t die. I can understand why you’d want to, but think about this: If you die, there’s going to be one of those cheesy Princess Diana memorials at school, where everyone puts flowers and candles and notes next to your locker.' She wipes away a renegade tear with the back of her hand. 'I know you’d hate that kind of thing.'"
In this passage, Mia's best friend Kim is praying for Mia's recovery. Kim's characteristic unsentimental-but-loving nature is conveyed in the mixture of her joking and crying. Her request to Mia also reveals her depth of understanding for her friend: neither of them are the type of people who would appreciate public displays of mourning.
"And it’s while contemplating this that I think about what the nurse said. She’s running the show. And suddenly I understand what Gramps was really asking Gran. He had listened to that nurse, too. He got it before I did. If I stay. If I live. It’s up to me."
This passage is significant because it marks a turning point in the narrative in which Mia's main conflict is made clear. After overhearing her grandparents discuss the idea of "who decides," Mia has a revelation: it is up to her to decide whether she lives or dies. Having come to this realization, Mia must evaluate whether she can go on without her family.
"The funny thing was, I never really bought into Kim’s notion that they were somehow bound together through me—until just now when I saw her half carrying him down the hospital corridor."
In the lead-up to this passage, Mia recalls how Adam and Kim have never gotten along. While Kim had insisted that it didn't matter if she and Adam weren't friends, because they were united through their love for Mia, Mia hadn't grasped quite what Mia meant, and perhaps didn't believe her. However, the sight of Kim supporting Adam's weight as he reacts to Mia's comatose state is enough to convince Mia that Kim had been telling the truth.
"Sleep would be so welcome. A warm blanket of black to erase everything else. Sleep without dreams. I’ve heard people talk about the sleep of the dead. Is that what death would feel like? The nicest, warmest, heaviest never-ending nap? If that’s what it’s like, I wouldn’t mind. If that’s what dying is like, I wouldn’t mind that at all.”
In this passage, Mia's consciousness is growing exhausted by her inability to sleep. She meditates on her grandmother's pleasantly rambling voice and imagines that she could almost drift away, lulled into sleep. This quotation is significant because it is one of the few instances in the novel when Mia considers what the afterlife would look and feel like. Her exhaustion is so immense that she finds the idea of death appealing, imagining that it might be akin to a deep, dreamless sleep. In contrast to the pain and anguish of staying alive, death seems an easier, more comfortable option.
"What would it be like if I stay? What would it feel like to wake up an orphan? To never smell Dad smoke a pipe? To never stand next to Mom quietly talking as we do the dishes? To never read Teddy another chapter of Harry Potter? To stay without them? I’m not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I’m not sure that I want to wake up."
In this passage, Mia considers the difficulty of living on without her closest family members. Her images of her mother, father, and brother are so vivid in her memory—full of images, sounds, and smells—that it seems impossible to imagine a future in which she wouldn't think about them incessantly. This passage touches on the theme of social belonging: Mia cannot imagine she belongs to a world that doesn't include the people with whom she has always felt safe and comfortable, as her family is integral to her identity.
"There is a blinding flash, a pain that rips through me for one searing instant, a silent scream from my broken body. For the first time, I can sense how fully agonizing staying will be."
In the novel's climactic scene, Adam puts headphones over Mia's ears. The music inspires a flood of memories mixed with visions of the future. The sensory overload sends a flash through Mia and her consciousness is returned to her body. In this passage, Mia comments on the pain and grief she will have to endure if she stays. Her only way of coping with the pain is to grip Adam's hand as hard as she can.
If I Stay Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for If I Stay is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.