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Book Review

This contemporary drama novel by Gayle Forman is the first in the "If I Stay" series published by Dutton Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

If I Stay is written for kids ages 14 and up. The age range reflects readability and not necessarily content appropriateness.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

At 17, Mia is a gifted cellist who has a good shot at attending Julliard. She, her former punk-rocker parents and her 7-year-old brother, Teddy, form a tight-knit, happy family. But when they take an impromptu trip to visit friends one snowy morning, an oncoming truck hits their car. Mia finds herself in a state somewhere between life and death. From outside of her injured body, she witnesses the aftermath of the crash and the events in the hospital. Her parents die instantly. Teddy makes it to the hospital but doesn't survive.

Between telling readers what she's seeing, Mia shares detailed anecdotes about her family and recounts her love story with a guitar player named Adam. She watches her real self, in a coma, and overhears a nurse say that it is Mia's decision whether she lives or dies. Mia ponders which she will choose.

Grandparents sit at her bedside. Relatives and family friends hold a vigil in the waiting room. Mia's best friend, Kim, and Adam must sneak in to see her since nonfamily members aren't initially allowed in her room. When Adam is finally able to sit with Mia, he begs her to stay. The power of his love makes her decide to live and fight through the physical and emotional pain she knows will follow.

Christian Beliefs

Mia says she can feel bystanders at the crash site praying for her family. Mia's grandmother collects angel trinkets and believes real angels are everywhere. Mia says she hopes Gran is right. She prays that the angels are too busy comforting her brother to worry about her. Mia mentions that her family attended church sometimes.

Other Belief Systems

As Kim sits in the hospital chapel, she notes the irony that emblems from so many different faiths line the walls. She wonders why no Muslim or Buddhist representations appear. In an out-of-body experience, Mia senses that Kim is talking to her, not God. Although Kim usually mocks her own Jewish faith, she closes her eyes in the chapel and whispers what seem to Mia to be prayers in another language.

Mom, a proud feminist, is pro-abortion. She is outraged at an old friend's funeral when she feels his beliefs have not been respected. The deceased was an atheist, but the minister talks about how the man is now walking with Jesus and getting his heavenly reward. Mia has a premonition that she will be attending Julliard. As she contemplates her decision to live or let go, she says she has no idea what happens after you die. She also comes to believe it isn't up to God whether she lives or dies. She says if He even exists, He's not around right now. So the decision is all up to her.

Authority Roles

Mia's parents are loving and involved in her life. They are extremely liberal and speak openly about sex and alcohol in front of their children. For example, Mom prides herself on her feminist views and eagerly offers to help Mia get birth control when she starts dating Adam. Mia's grandparents adore her and help her pursue her dreams of Julliard.


Words such as a--hole, p---, whore, balls, d--k, s---, b--ch, h---, d--n, slut, horndog, crap, the f-word and the Lord's name in vain appear frequently and in various forms. Mia provides a few disturbing and gory details as she surveys the scene of her family's crash.


As Mia recalls the beginning of her relationship with Adam, she says she was a virgin but certainly wasn't devoted to staying that way. She says Adam was definitely not a virgin. She recalls, in detail, their first intimate encounter. Undressed, they play each other like musical instruments. She indicates she thinks her parents, who are home at the time, know what's going on. They allow it, she says, because they're suckers for romance. Later, Mia indicates that Adam sometimes stays overnight. Even before she's dated Adam for very long, Mom offers to take Mia to Planned Parenthood to get her on the pill. She tells Mia what diseases Adam should be tested for and gives Mia money to buy condoms.

Mia and Adam make out after one of his concerts, and he says they should leave because he's horny. Before Adam came along, Kim and Mia had always consoled themselves about their lack of boyfriends by saying that they wouldn't be 40-year-old virgins and that they were the type to have boyfriends in college. Mom always said she wished she hadn't dated in high school, where a typical date was getting drunk, cow tipping and making out in a backseat. Mom and Dad attend the "shotgun" wedding of a friend who impregnated his girlfriend. Kim says all the kids at her Jewish camp just go to hook up.

Mom and Dad had a rocker wedding and were married by a lesbian justice of the peace. One of Adam's band members is a lesbian, and one of Mia's friends at music camp is gay.

Discussion Topics

Additional Comments/Notes

Alcohol: Adam gets drunk at a New Year's Eve party. Mia, though underage, also has some alcohol. Her mom doesn't mind, as long as she's not hung over. Throughout her narrative, Mia mentions other instances of excessive alcohol use by her parents in their younger days and their friends.

Other negative behavior: Kim and Mia sometimes pull pranks at school or ditch class to go to art films. Mom sneaks Mia into a casino with her where Mom gambles for an hour. Girls wear racy, bust and leg-bearing costumes to the club where Adam is playing.

Movie tie-in: Producers often use a book as a springboard for a movie idea or to earn a specific rating. Because of this, a movie may differ from the novel. To better understand how this book and the movie differ, compare the book review with Plugged In's movie review for If I Stay.

This review is brought to you by Focus on the Family, a donor-based ministry. Book reviews cover the content, themes and world-views of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

You can request a review of a title you can't find at reviewrequests@family.org.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

14 and up


Gayle Forman






Record Label



Dutton Books, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.


On Video

Year Published



New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) Book of the Year, 2009; ABA Indies Choice Book Awards, 2010


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