Mia's cello symbolizes her individuality. While everyone else in her life plays rock music instruments, Mia is, for some unexplained reason, drawn to the cello. While her affinity for the instrument initially confuses her, and leads her to feel ashamed and uncool, her dedication to it allows her to overcome her fear of not being like others and assert her identity as an individual. Over time, Mia's cello becomes inextricable from who she is; while auditioning for Juilliard, Mia plays as if her "fingers were just an extension of the strings and bow."
Blond wig (Symbol)
Mia's blond wig symbolizes her need to overcome her insecurity. Early in her relationship with Adam, Mia fears that her interest in classical music means she doesn't belong with his punk friend group. With her mother's help, Mia dresses as punk icon Debbie Harry before she goes to Adam's Halloween concert. Adam responds well to Mia's sexy outfit and blond bob wig, which makes Mia feel insecure, worried he likes her more in punk costume than he likes her as she usually is. He reassures her that he loves her the same no matter how she is dressed. Later, when feeling insecure, Mia thinks about her blond wig gathering dust in her closet and remembers what Adam had said.
Yo-Yo Ma Music (Motif)
While most of the novel's characters are fans of rock music, Mia prefers classical, and her favorite performer is the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Yo-Yo Ma first comes up in the novel because Adam buys tickets to take Mia to his concert for their first date. Yo-Yo Ma's music first provides a context for the couple to build intimacy, and later helps wake Mia from her coma. Yo-Yo Ma’s music could even be said to have saved Mia’s life: though she had decided to die, when Adam places headphones over her ears and plays Yo-Yo Ma’s performance of “Andante con poco e moto rubato," the heartbeat-like sound of the music inspires Mia to think about the possibility of a bright future, and cling to her life.
Parental Wisdom (Motif)
Throughout the novel, Mia remembers significant moments during which her parents imparted wisdom. During her first cello recital, her father tells her that you never get over the anxiety of performing on stage, and while Mia is deciding whether to go to Juilliard or stay in Oregon with Adam, her mother says she would support either decision, because she understands how difficult it is to choose between the love of a person and the love of music. The advice Mia's parents give her is not only to help her better navigate the circumstances in which the advice arises, but can be applied to her present and future.
The novel is structured so that Mia's narration switches between her present-tense timeline at the hospital and her past-tense memories. The recurrence of vivid memories represents the powerful pull of the past as Mia processes her new reality as an orphan. The motif of switching being present and past reflects Mia's main conflict: she can live with the pain of the present or stay in the past by joining her family in death.
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.