If I Stay–the book and movie that consumes you

in Fiction by

Avid readers know that sometimes choosing a book can be a shot in the dark. There’s no guarantee that just because you like a cover or a synopsis the book will live up to what it promises. So often the fantasy of what a book could be is better than the reality of what it is.

But then there are those rare books that you start reading at 9 p.m. and finish around dawn—books that consume you, books that you want to burrow inside of and make a nest, books that you think about for days, weeks, years after reading them.

If I Stay was one of those books for me. When I first saw the cover and read the description, I was intrigued but skeptical. It sounded tragic, even for a young adult novel—car accidents, families lost—but it also seemed as if it could go terribly wrong. What if the writing wasn’t captivating? What if I didn’t care enough about the main character, Mia, to worry about her future? Luckily, Gayle Forman’s prose is hauntingly beautiful, and Mia, her family, and her boyfriend Adam stole my heart. Seriously, it’s gone. I’ve been looking for it for the past five years.

On August 22, the movie adaptation of If I Stay hits theaters. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t watch the trailer about a hundred times:

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And, um, maybe cried my eyes out.

This book is remarkably good, and the movie looks just as awesome. Never heard of If I Stay? Here’s everything you need to know before the premiere.

The Premise

One snowy day, 17-year-old Mia Hall and her family go for a drive. It only takes an instant for her life to change forever as the car spirals out of control, instantly killing her parents and putting both her and her younger brother in critical condition. Now Mia is hovering somewhere between life and death, watching herself as she is brought to the hospital, watching as her grandparents, friends and boyfriend come to her bedside to plead with her to stay. Most of the story is told in flashbacks—Mia’s quirky family, her budding romance with Adam, her friendship with Kim. But it’s all leading to Mia’s ultimate decision: will living on without her family be too hard? Will she stay or will she go?

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The Characters

Mia Hall is a quiet, thoughtful girl who’s a prodigy at the cello and hopes to make it into Julliard. She has always felt like an outcast—her parents and their friends are heavily into rock and roll and not always understanding of her love for classical music. It’s through Adam that Mia is able to open up more, and see how much value her talent has both in her family and in her own life.

Adam Wilde is the lead singer and guitarist of the band “Shooting Star.” Adam falls for Mia hard. He’s confident, sensitive and thoughtful, and a shared love of music is what initially brings the two of them together. They’re devoted to one another, despite the realities that are getting in their way—college, his band’s success, Mia’s dream of Julliard. But when Mia is injured, he drops everything to make it to her side.

Teddy Hall is Mia’s precocious younger brother, who she views almost as her own kid. She takes care of him a lot and he worships both her and Adam. Through most of the book, Mia is left wondering whether Teddy has made it through the accident.

If I Stay boyfriend and brother
Adam, Teddy and Mia

Kim Schein is Mia’s best friend. She and Mia are very similar, and inseparable, until Adam comes into the picture. Part of Mia’s struggle is getting Kim and Adam to like and accept each other. But when Mia’s in the hospital Kim barely leaves her side.

Kat and Denny Hall are Mia’s formerly rebellious parents who have settled down (marginally) in order to raise their kids. Denny was in a rock band for years, while Kat is described as “tough as nails, tender as kittens.” They both struggle with Mia’s love of classical music, but they also accept and love her for who she is.

Why You Should Watch it. And Read it. And Possibly Construct a Shrine to it.

First of all: Adam. He’s such a great character—hot, sweet, sensitive, and not without his faults (in a good way). Fans love him so much that there’s even a Team Adam movement , in which they publicly declare their love for men like Adam—men who respect women, who aren’t afraid to show their emotions, and who recognize that a little softness doesn’t take away from their masculinity. And Forman loves Adam so much that she made him the focus of a sequel, Where She Went.

Secondly: read it for Mia’s family. Is this a romantic story? Obviously. But while Adam is important to Mia, a huge part of the book is spent mourning and celebrating her parents and her life growing up. She had an unconventionally family but they never lacked for love. In this way, If I Stay reminds me of the Young Adult novels I read as a teen (before vampire kissing was really a thing)—novels that focused on family, on roots, and on someone’s tentative place in the world.

Have I sold you on If I Stay yet? Clearly it’s not for lack of trying. Just trust me: this is a book you need to read, and a movie you need to watch. I know I’ll be there, tissues ready, and a battered paperback clutched in my hand.

Rachel Carter grew up surrounded by trees and snow and mountains. She graduated from the University of Vermont and Columbia University, where she received her MFA in nonfiction writing. She is the author of the So Close to You series with Harperteen. These days you can find her working on her next novel in the woods of Vermont.

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