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If I Stay - By Gayle Forman
Transcript of If I Stay - By Gayle Forman
To Mia, music symbolizes an escape or a place where she feels comfortable and relaxed. Music makes her feel familiar and allows her to let loose and just be herself. I noticed that there is a lexicon of reoccurring phrases about how music triggers certain emotions, as Mia is the narrator of the story. She often finds herself practicing her pieces in her head when she hears them on the radio, further proving her extensive dedication to the cello, as well as her fascination for the instrument. Call to Adventure The Hall's live in Oregon, which does not typically get much snow. On this particular February morning, it is announced that it will be a snow day, which is very unusual and exciting for Mia and her family. This is her call to adventure, as the snow storm is an external event that triggers them to go somewhere as a family. Mia's parents suggest a visit to their old friends Harry and Willow's farm house, out in the middle of nowhere, to meet their new baby. Mia and her little brother, Teddy, are hesitant at first, until they are told that they would stop by Gran and Gramps' house for dinner; Mia is a family oriented girl and therefore she accepts the call. She is also pleased to hear that they will stop by Book Barn, the place where she buys her twenty-five cent classical records, on the way home and still have time to get to her boyfriend, Adam Wilde's, concert in Portland. An unusual circumstance of this day is that Mia's father never had a license until Teddy was born because of his band, but is now really fond of driving. It is a coincidence that their family goes for a long drive on a day of abnormal weather, where "wispy strands of white fog, and heavy gray storm clouds” fill the sky and condensation fogs up the car windows (Forman 14). This image shows the dangerous driving conditions that the family will undergo, in order to begin Mia's journey through pain and suffering. Why would it snow that day if it never snows in Oregon? Why would Mia's family go on a long drive in this bizarre weather? I find it peculiar that Mia's parents decide to go on a far drive on the day of a snowstorm. When their children have a snow day and it rarely ever snows in Oregon, I do not think that as good drivers they would take such risks. I believe that the author may use the snow as a symbol of change in the weather, relating to the change of Mia's life in her Call to Adventure. This would mean that the family going on the car ride proves Mia's answering of the call and that she wants to begin her journey. The opening line of this novel, "Everyone thinks it was because of the snow [and] in a way, I suppose that's true", suggests that the reason that Mia's life is turned upside down is because of the snow storm (Forman 3). This further justifies that it is poor judgement of Mia's father, when he leads his family into danger. Helpers/Amulet Mia has numerous helpers and amulets during the car ride, which help her clear her mind and more importantly save her life. While the Hall family is in the car on their way to Harry and Willow's house, Mia listens to Beethoven's Cello Sonata no. 3 playing on the radio. She is soothed by the music as she closes her eyes and pictures herself playing the cello. Beethoven's piece is considered an amulet, because Mia is supposed to be practicing that piece on her cello that day, so she feels like it is some kind of coincidence. This is evident when Mia says, "I concentrate on the notes, imagining myself playing, feeling grateful for this chance to practice, happy to be in a warm car with my sonata and my family" (Forman 15). As stated, Mia feels lucky to have the opportunity to practice the cello in the car, which supports that her cello is also an amulet. The cello is part of Mia's image, personality, and who she is as an individual, because so much of her time is spent practicing it.
Along with her amulets, Mia had three helpers, being her mother, father, and brother, who accompany her in the car. As a whole, they protect her from getting killed in the car accident and lead her on her journey by providing her with a new mindset related to her situation. An event found out later in the story depicts that when they get hit by a truck, the rest of Mia's family dies, but she comes out with major injuries. Her family helps by taking the majority of the impact, as well as giving her a new outlook on life. Mia explains that her mother is hit first and that "she [is] the one to buffer [them] from the blow" (Forman 20). Mia is very grateful that her mother - and afterwards her father - unknowingly sacrifice their lives for her, because she knows that they would have wanted it to happen that way. Although the great majority of the car is totalled after the accident, the radio is still attached to the car battery and continues to play its calming melody. I believe that this is a symbol for Mia's serenity in a time of chaos and disorientation, because she uses it to distract herself from her morbid body. Later on in the novel, there are a few more examples of how Mia uses music to clear her mind, allowing herself to focus and concentrate on important decisions. Mia's application of music in her life can be related to the story of Orpheus, a Greek God who sings and plays the harp. Orpheus' heroic action is when he plays his enchanting music to charm the villains into doing what he advocates. Just like how Mia is delighted by her cello, everyone around Orpheus is mesmerized by his music. Crossing the Threshold Mia unwillingly crosses the threshold into a new world of grief and personal struggles, when their "car is eviscerated" by a pickup truck (Forman 15). It is a very serious accident, as Mia explains how they receive "the impact of a four-ton pickup truck going sixty miles an hour plowing straight into the passenger seat" (Forman 15). After the ordeal of the crash, Mia is forced into the world of adventure, where she must fight for survival. At this point in the novel, Mia is unable to go back to prevent her parent's death and her own injuries, nor can she return to her regular life. Due to the recent life-altering events, she is in shock and cannot think straight. She walks around the crime scene and first find her mother, then her father, but is worried when she is unable to find her precious Teddy. As she walks towards what she thinks is Teddy's hand sticking out from a ditch, she realizes that is it actually her own hand and she becomes very confused. This is justified when Mia says, "We are a family, going on a drive. This [is not] real. I must have fallen asleep in the car" (Forman 18). In the beginning, Mia believes that she is dreaming, but cannot force herself to wake up. After hearing the paramedics examine her body, she soon discovers that she is in a coma, with her ghost-like figure walking around outside of her real physical body. The paramedics who are keeping Mia alive, as well as the bystanders praying her family try to do whatever they can to prevent her from crossing the threshold, but they cannot reverse the damage that has already been done. When reading the crash scene, I noticed that the author really does not give much detail on the collision itself, as the story skips from when Mia closes her eyes, listening to music, to "You would [not] expect the radio to work afterwards" (Forman 15). After this, the damage of the accident is explained, but not what actually takes place when the cars come in contact. Since Mia is the narrator of the text, she would not have seen what took place since her eyes were closes, as she only describes the loud noises she hears, but does not know what actually happens. To find the answer to why the author does not provide much imagery, I did some research about the author's point of view in this part of the novel. Gayle Forman uses such a detached tone for this scene, because she wants the reader to feel just as shocked as Mia does from the accident. Since the novel is based on one of her closes friends who had experienced a similar accident, she had found this particularly difficult to write, as it brought out her emotions of sorrow for her own personal loss. This also justifies why this section is so sparingly detailed.
After Mia finds her family thrown out of the car, she states, "We are like Humpty Dumpty, and all theses King's horses and all these King's men cannot put us back together again" (Forman 21). This is an allusion to the well-known nursery rhyme called Humpty Dumpty: "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall / Humpty Dumpty had a great fall / All the King's horses and all the Kings men / Couldn't put Humpty together again" (Elliot National Nursery Rhymes and Nursery Songs 38). Mia refers to her family as Humpty Dumpty, as she finds pieces of her father's brain on the road, her mother seeping out blood, and her own leg that is torn to the bone. The King's horses and men represent the paramedics who are taking care of Mia, but unfortunately cannot save her parents. This allusion allows Mia to effectively explain her family's situation in a new and creative way that makes the reader expand their mind. Tests/Trials Mia has to face another inner demon when Adam finally arrives at the hospital to see her. It becomes obvious that she is nervous to see her boyfriend, because she knows how devastated he will be when he sees her. This is evident when Mia says, "now that Adam is here, I [am] paralyzed... If he is crying, it will kill me... That alone will do me in" (Forman 103). Considering Mia does not want to see Adam face to face, she realizes that if she dies, Adam is the only memory that she does not want to have, because it would be like losing him all over again.
The most important test in this novel is when Mia suffers many life-threatening injuries and her family members die. As Mia pears over all the machines attached her ghastly body, she senses the severity of her current condition:
There are so many tubes attached to me that I cannot count them all: one down my throat breathing for me; one down my nose; keeping my stomach empty; one in my vein, hydrating me; one in my bladder, peeing for me; several on my chest, recording my heartbeat; another on my finger, recording my pulse. (Forman 52)
Mia knows that the only reason she is alive is because of the medical equipment; although it is heartbreaking to see herself this way, Mia proves her strength in overcoming the shock of the trauma.
Besides her physical pain, another one of Mia's obstacles is accepting that her little brother is dead and she is not, because she wishes that she could switch places with him. When Mia reflects about Teddy, she decides that "if one of [them] should be given the opportunity for more life, it should be him" (Forman 161). Mia is has been really close with Teddy and cannot acquiesce that he will never get the opportunities in life that she has. This makes her only want to push for survival even more, just so that Teddy's sacrifices for her do not go to waste. Throughout her journey, Mia undergoes a series of tests and trials that demonstrate her true strength as a heroine. One of Mia's first challenges after the accident is that she is confused about what has happened to her, and she does not know whether she is dead or alive: "Am I dead? At first it seem[s] obvious that I am. That the standing-here-watching par [is] temporary, an intermission before the bright light and the life-flashing-before-me business that would transport me to wherever I [am] going next" (Forman 19). Her mind is outside of her physical self, as she watches what is taking place from the outside of her body, therefore she believes that she is caught in one of the stages of dying. This complication forces Mia to search for answers about what is really going on in her body, which permits her to further progress on her pursuit.
Another test that Mia must abide is a brother battle, where she has a mental conflict with her loved ones. At the hospital that Mia is transported to, the nurse asks Gran and Gramps to call her relatives and close friends to come visit, but no one mentions Adam. Mia is very upset because she needs Adam more than anyone else at this time, but he has not been alerted about her grave condition. When Mia's family go in to see her, many of them are crying, which makes it very difficult for her to remain positive. Mia spends her time walking around the hospital, still in search for answers and monitoring who is there to see her. For Mia to get through this test, she develops heroic character traits, such as courage and perseverance. What I find interesting about the plot of If I Stay is that the entire story happens over the course of only one day. Mia is only in a coma for 24 hours, as she decides whether to live or die and has flashbacks about her life. I think that Gale Forman does this because it shows how quickly problems can escalade and how little Mia has to make her crucial choice. I feel that since If I Stay is written in the first person, it allows Mia to describe her feeling about certain events, which helps the reader's understanding of her emotions. This is especially pertinent in the Tests and Trials stage, because this are the times when we see Mia's biggest struggles.
When Mia's family waits for her in the hospital, knowing that she is in a coma, it reminds me of when my uncle was in a serious accident two summers ago. On a family vacation to Hawaii, he was swimming in the Pacific Ocean, when he got too close to shore and was forced into a somersault underwater, hitting his head on a rock. He was unconscious for quite a while, and we did not know exactly what was wrong with him for a long time. This helps me relate to how Mia's family and friends are feeling about her situation, because I can connect my emotions to the fear they would have felt at the time. Helpers Mia's helpers on her journey consist of everyone who accompanies her at the hospital: her relatives, friends, and health care providers. One of Mia's nurses helps by telling Gran and Gramps that Mia "can hear [them]... she [is] aware of everything that [is] going on... she [is] running the show" (Forman 82). This conversation is important because it provokes her visitors to communicate with her and tell her what she needs to hear. Furthermore, Gran and her best friend Kim are Mia's loyal companions, as they guide her to free her mind; they do this by talking to her unresponsive body as if it is just a casual conversation. Along with these helpers, Gramps and Adam also assist in Mia's tests and trials by telling her that it is alright to die. In different ways, they both let her know that they understand how hard her life will be in the future, so they will forgive her if she chooses to no longer be a part of their lives. An example of how Gramps show his compassion is when he says to Mia, "'I understand if you go. It [is] okay if you have to leave us. It [is] okay if you want to stop fighting'" (Forman 181). This means that he has ignored his selfish desire for Mia, because he wants her to follow her heart, regardless what others try to influence her to do. Similarly, Adam proves that he would do anything for Mia when he says, "'if you need me to go away, I [will] do that... I can lose you like that if I do [not] lose you today. I'll let you go. If you stay" (Forman 231). Adam tells Mia that if it will be too painful for her to go back to her old life, he would make a sacrifice for her.
An indirect helper that guides Mia to make her decision is her father. Near the end of the novel, Mia is reunited with her father in a way, because she thinks about her father's song lyrics from his old band: "Now I'm leaving / Any moment I'll be gone... I'm not choosing / But I'm running out of fight" (Forman 190). When she remembers her father's words of wisdom, it makes her think that he is sending her some sort of secret message. This makes her believe that he wrote for her, to give her instruction from his perspective in heaven. By knowing that her father is still with her, Mia realizes what her parents would have said if they were there at the hospital, which helps guide her through the ultimate choice. Why does the author use music to bring Mia and Adam together? While reading about this teenage relationship, I noticed that the bond between Mia and Adam is as a result of musical chemistry. On their first date, Adam saved up a lot of money to buy tickets and take Mia to see a Yo-Yo Ma concert. When the two of them listen to music together they feel completely connected, even if they are not saying a word to each other. This shows that music is a language that everyone can understand, as it speaks in a way that words cannot. I believe that Gale Forman applies this approach to their relationship because music depicts emotion. To justify this statement, it is implied that music triggers certain emotional attachments and brings back specific memories of feeling or events present while listening to a song. The musical connection that Mia has with her helpers also relates back to her Birth, because as previously stated, it brings her closer to those around her. An example of this is when Mia, her father, and Adam actually blend their music to play a trio, although Mia does not play the same type of music as them. Final Battle Mia's final battle is when she is in a coma and must decide whether to stay or go, meaning wake up or die. At this point, Mia must face her deepest fear of making the choice between life and death. It becomes clear that she is torn on her decision, when she says, "How am I supposed to decide this? How can I possibly stay without Mom and Dad? How can I live without Teddy? Or Adam? This is too much" (Forman 88). Mia becomes discouraged as she now comprehends her great loss and how her life has undergone a grave change. As she critically analyses the positives and mostly the negatives of her life without a family, she realizes that "dying is easy [and] living is hard" (Forman 175). Mia is now aware that all she has left of her old life is her music, her close friends, and her relatives, proving that she is not waking up for her own benefit.
Just as Mia is running out of fight, Kim acknowledges everyone that loves her, "listing all the people who are at the hospital or who have been, during the course of the day" (Forman 219). Although Kim has no way of knowing that Mia can hear her, she tells Mia that all those who are still a part of her life want to her stay. Kim makes sure that Mia understands that she has many people supporting her, when she kisses Mia on the forehead and whispers, "'You still have a family'" (Forman 220). This helps Mia realize that she still has people that will be there for her, even if her immediate family is no longer able to. This is also the point of deification in the story where the heroine is held up as an ideal, because of all the people who care about her so dearly.
Along with Kim's words of encouragement, Adam attempts to save Mia's life with music. After Adam asks Mia to wait for him because he leaves something at home, he returns with an IPod, places the earphones next close by her face, and plays Yo-Yo Ma's Andante con moto e poco rubato. Adam chooses to play this music because he knows that it makes Mia feel comfortable; she will therefore die peacefully or live in harmony. The cello music is Mia's key to fulfilling her quest, as it results in her making the decision about her potential existence or departure. The title If I Stay, is very logical to the final battle, because Mia contemplates an unknowable future if she wakes up from her coma. The significance of the title to this novel is that Mia's whole journey is based on making the most important decision she will ever make, and If I Stay refers to what will happen if she regains consciousness. In the final battle, when Kim states that Mia still has a family, it has a deeper meaning than what is taken literally. Kim is not talking about family being Mia's blood relatives, but being all of the individuals that she has loved throughout her life. Knowing that Mia will still have her loved ones by her side, it influences her decision to stay alive, as she is able to understand that everything will be alright. I believe that Mia is now also conscientious that her parent's, had they still been alive, would have wanted her to wake up for her family. Although she will not wake up to the normal family that she is used to, Kim shows her that as long as there is love and caring, that is what makes a family. This can be connected with the social statement of the movie, Mrs Doubtfire, as they have a similar message. In the movie, after losing his job, wife, and time with his kids, Daniel and his ex-wife Miranda sort out their differences. Although they do not get back together in the end, Daniel realizes that he still has a family with his three children that he loves so dearly, without being that typical two-parented family.
Just before Adam leaves the hospital, he says to Mia, "'Please. Please. Please... Do [not] make me write a song'" (Forman 198). In this context, he is making a reference to the time when Mia asked him why he never wrote a song about her; Adam answered that he only writes songs about tragedies and that she would have to die in order for him to write one. I think that the author chose this very significant line for Adam to say, because it is a symbol of their eternal love and it shows Mia that she still has something to live for. Flight Before Mia can return home, she must first mentally prepare herself to return to life. She does just this when she is listening to Yo-Yo Ma's music that Adam brought, as it brings back her greatest memories. Mia's life flashes before her eyes, as the memories "are coming so fast and furious... until [she] cannot take it anymore" (Forman 233). The vigorous flashbacks start to blend all together to the point where Mia can no longer control them. As Mia gets closer to the Threshold of Adventure to escape her comatose, her spirit is forced back into her body, and she finds herself lying in the hospital bed with Adam's hand grasping hers. In order to finish her journey, Mia has to get herself out of the coma, but is still torn on her decision. It is evident that she is doubtful of herself when she says, "I [am] not sure this is a world I belong in anymore. I [am] not sure that I want to wake up" (Forman 164). All of the memories that Mia has of her family will never come back to life with her, so she does not think that she fits in to her regular world.
Mia's relatives and friends are hopeless of her survival, but Adam, who still stands by her bedside, believes that he can save her. To do this, Adam holds Mia's hand as a symbol of their eternal bond and his never-ending love for her. As Mia feels more and more overwhelming emotions running through her body, she feels like she cannot get through it without Adam. Mia suggests this when she says, "I just need to hold his hand more than I [have] ever needed anything in this world. Not just be held by it, but hold it back" (Forman 234). When Mia expresses her desire to physically hold Adam's hand, it shows her moving forward in her Flight, because it is implied that she has the intentions of waking up. Just when everyone thinks that Mia is dying, Adam unexpectedly rescues her and guides her home. When Mia describes the images flashing through her mind, she claims: "There is a blinding flash, a pain that rips through me for an instant, a silent scream from my broken body" (Forman 233). The author uses a metaphorical description of Mia experiencing unfamiliar sensations as she re-enters her body. The silent scream that is let out from Mia's body is a personification as well as an oxymoron. It is a personification in the way that Mia's body cannot actually scream because she is unconscious and no one can hear her, ergo the use of the word silent. It is also an oxymoron because scream and silent are contradictory terms, which are put together to create a figure of speech that somehow makes sense. The significance of this literary device is that the scream being silent reinforces to the reader how fragile and powerless Mia is in this situation. Since people scream when they are in pain, Mia's body that is screaming would represent that she is in an unbearable amount of pain, both physically and mentally. This pain is what motivates her to end her journey and return home. Return Home Mia feels like she needs to truly embrace Adam's hand more than anything, so she summons all of the remaining strength that she has in her body to force herself to grab. Since she is so weak, she obtains energy from all the love that she has ever been given and focuses it into her right hand. At first when she squeezes, she cannot tell if it has any impact or if it even registers in Adam. After a moment of uncertainty, Mia feels Adam's grip tighten as he clears his throat and acknowledges her presence. It is evident that Mia returns to life, when she says, "It [is] the first time today I can truly hear him" (Forman 234). Mia finally returns home when she wakes up from the coma and prepares herself for her new life ahead of her. She is able start a new life, because she is no longer held back by the stress of deciding her own destiny. During the Return Home, Mia experiences a sort of resurrection, as she awakes from an unfathomable accident and must now fill the voids in her heart. Mia is a changed person after her journey, as she develops a new outlook on life and learns what her real priorities are. She now has a sense of true appreciation for her loved ones, because she knows how fast someone's whole life can be taken from them. The Return Home signifies the point where the heroine has a form of awakening and becomes a new person. Mia's awakening can be taken literally or figuratively, depending on the reader's point of view on the situation. Mia's literal awakening is when she wakes up from the coma and comes back to life, because at that point her senses are restored. When taken figuratively, her awakening is when she finds internal strength and realizes that she is in control of her own life. Both of these perceptions contribute to the reader's understanding of Mia's character and the reasons behind her actions.
In If I Stay, the author does not reveal that Mia chooses to stay until the last line of the novel. I believe that she did this because it leaves the reader anticipating Mia's decision all the way to the end. In my opinion, this is a good strategy to use, because it adds suspense to the novel and leaves the reader wanting to know more. Also, the whole point of the novel is to discover if Mia chooses life or death, so the story would automatically end anyways when her decision is announced. This novel captivates the reader's attention and makes them imagine what they would do if they were in Mia's condition and had to choose. Elixir At the end of Mia's journey, her role in society changes drastically. She is no longer defined as the quiet girl who plays the cello, but as the girl whose family is dead. Mia acknowledges this when she imagines "hearing people say the word orphan and realize[s] that they [are] talking about [her]" (Forman 232). Being an orphan, Mia will now have to face many new challenges in her life and everyone around her will see her as a different person. It is suggested that Mia does not wake up for herself, but for all those who love her, because she discovers how much she means to them. This is because Mia realizes the true meaning of family and the importance of friendship. Mia learns to accept her misfortunes and understands that this is her destiny. She now knows that she can control her own decisions but cannot control fate: "'Sometimes you make choices in life and sometimes choices make you'" (Forman 192). Mia learns that when life makes a choice for her, she must learn to live with what she has and make the best out of it. There are two central elixirs in the novel; one pertains to the moral that the heroine acquires on her journey and the other defines her role in society. After her journey, Mia has the knowledge of the tragedy of her family and realizes how it will affect her in her everyday life. Mia has taken the time to understand the consequences of living and dying and chooses what she feels is the better of the two. Mia receives the blessing of being able to go between the comatose state and real life, as well as decide her own destiny. She can now live freely know that she has made the right decision and that she still has so many people who love her dearly. Even though Mia no longer has her immediate family with her every day, she finds a way to remember them, because the love that they have shared will never die. Over the course of Mia's journey she acquires wisdom, which she uses as a healing function to be able to continue on in life after her great loss. Mia knows in her heart that her family never really leaves, which is what allows her to move forwards in life. The main lesson that Mia takes out of her journey is that "love... it never fades, so long as you hang on to it" (Forman 242). Mia's story proves that love can make people immortal, because as long as she remembers the love in her family, it is like they are still with her. Mia's decision to stay alive shows many character traits that are not directly stated in the novel. To choose to return to a life where you are left with nothing - instead of slipping away peacefully to be with your family in heaven - is not an easy thing to do. Mia's decision says a lot about how she has changed as a person in the duration on her journey. Mia proves her development of courage, perseverance, bravery, and hope that she acquires so quickly from her accident.
The morals that Mia acquire can be applied in society, as they have an influence on everyday life. From this novel, the reader can grow as a person and better their life, by knowing that they are never alone as long as they have love. The new meaning of the word family demonstrated in this novel will allow the reader to have a better understanding that all sorts families - no matter if they are blood related or not – can be functional if there is love. Mia's courage could be an inspiration to many people who have lost a close family member, or who have suffered through a live-threatening injury. Gale Forman's story through Mia's heartache and sorrow shows that death is just another one of the challenges that everyone must face in life. THE END