Mia is a senior in high school whose entire family is in a tragic car accident. Mia's parents are killed immediately, and her brother dies soon after the wreck. Mia is in a comatose state, but has a sort of "out of body" experience as she struggles with the decision to wake up and face life, or die. I realize that's such a harsh description, but this is a pretty harsh book. Forman describes pain and suffering, and even love in a way I rarely have read.
There is more to Mia, and to If I Stay, than just the accident, or her family. She is a master cellist, and is anticipating entrance to Julliard in the fall. Music seems to be a common and strong theme in this book, because all of the major characters have their own respective identities tightly connected to the music they prefer. Mia's mom and dad are former punk rockers who are pretty free-spirited and rebellious in their parenting. Mia's boyfriend, Adam, is the lead guitarist in a rock band that has recently signed with a record label in Seattle. The emphasis on music is what pushes this book just a tad in standing out among other young adult literature. I love it. Music is a very, very important part of teenagers' lives. Well, even on a greater level, I believe that music helps shape the culture of a society. I like that Forman uses music to show how individuals are different, yet basically the same in so many ways.
Language is harsh, and I'm just not a fan of blatant profanity, because to me there is an infinite number of better word choices. Yet, in If I Stay, at least I understand how the author uses it to characterize those in her book. Mia's mom dropping some bombs in casual conversation with her teenage daughter show that she is a very different sort of mother. Better? Great? Example for others? Hmmm...not so sure I would go that far. But it does show how because her family is very different, Mia also is a very different and complex young woman. That is what keeps the very basic plot of "will she choose to live or choose to die" going for 200 pages.