The Theme of Fear in the Novel If I Stay by Gayle Forman

Categories: If I Stay

Mark Twain once said that “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” This can be interpreted to mean that fear is present in everyday life, and overcoming that fear, mastering that fear, is what life’s journey is about. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines fear as “an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger (Fear).” Therefore, it can be concluded that fear is nothing more than an emotion, something that can be tucked away and overcome by simply willing oneself to do so.

Or can it be? Is fear something so minimal that it can be pushed aside as if it is an unwanted piece of clothing? No, fear is much more than that. It is a beast that will knaw and eat at a person from the inside out. It is a force that drives some crazy along the quest to beat it.

But then how can a person overcome such a fear and live to tell the tale? There’s only one way: by living with and being stronger then the fear.

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The novel “If I Stay” by Gayle Forman is the story of a teenage girl named Mia’s emotional journey after her parents and only brother are killed in a car accident. The ever present question; if Mia decides to stay on earth, what kind of life would she be able to lead? Both her parents and little brother have moved on, but her boyfriend, best friend, and doting grandparents live on.

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Throughout the story, the reader is allowed access to Mia’s innermost thoughts and fears about what life would be like without her family. As Mia lies in an intensive care unit bed she reflects back on her life.

She thinks about how her parents adored their old school rock while she herself prefers classical music, how her little brother was so attached to her that some family joked he thought she was his mother, and she wonders how she can ever live without them. Then her mind wanders to her rock star boyfriend and best friend who came to the hospital to be with her, and her grandparents who sat in the waiting room waiting for any news of her condition, and she thinks about what leaving them behind would mean. It all boils down to one question: does she choose to stay here on earth and face her fear of living without her immediate family, or does she move on to be with them and leave her friends and grandparents behind? Mia is afraid of living without her parents and little brother because she doesn’t know what to expect. She doesn’t know how she will cross the stage at her high school graduation without her parents sitting in the audience, she doesn’t know how she will perform her senior recital at Julliard knowing that her parents will never hear it, and she doesn’t know how she will walk down the aisle at her wedding without her father on her arm. She’s afraid of what the future holds without the comfort of those she loved the most. I believe Mia should cling to her fears, use them to her advantage, and fight to live because she has so much to live for, and because her parents would want her to stay strong and live on in their memory.

Mia has so much in her life to live for. The first and most important thing is the family she still has: her grandparents, aunts, and cousins. While Mia is still unconscious in the ICU, her family gathers in the waiting room where “Gran is knitting. Gramps is pretending to nap. Aunt Diane [is] playing Sudoku (77).” And her cousins are taking turns on a Game Boy, with the sound turned to mute. The second is her boyfriend Adam. When the accident happens, Adam is in Portland for a concert but when he hears Mia has been hurt, he rushes the hospital and stops at nothing to be able to see her. Adam and Kim, Mia’s best friend, casually “test out the doors to various supply closets (120)” in search of an used janitor outfit to put on in order to sneak into the ICU. When this doesn’t work, he recruits the help of his touring mate Brooke Vega to distract security guards and ICU personal. The third thing left in Mia’s life worth living for is her cello. Mia has been playing the cello since she was 8 years old and had been performing since she was 10. When Mia was in ninth grade, her dad arranged for a friend of his to come and listen to her play. Professor Christie and Mia’s father listened from downstairs while Mia practiced a Vivaldi sonata. “When [Mia] came down for dinner, she offered to take over [Mia’s] training (24).” Most recently, Mia has even had an audition with the Julliard School of Music. The second reason Mia should choose to live is in honor and memory of her parents and little brother. Her parents were proud of everything Mia ever did and they supported her 100% all the time. I feel that they would want her to live her life to its fullest and live her dreams.

When Mia and her family set out on that cold, snowy morning, they never dreamed that soon after their lives would be over and changed forever. They set out for an adventure, and in a way I suppose Mia got an adventure although I doubt it was what anyone had had in mind. Her adventure started the second the car was run of the road, but only picked up momentum when she chose to live. From that moment on, Mia would have to face the fear of living day to day life without the guidance her parents have always given her and the laughs her brother provided on a daily basis. She would soon realize that she can’t cower down and ignore her fears and that she must embrace them and use them to her advantage. As been said numerous times, “Never let the fear of striking out keep you from playing the game.” It means don’t let your fears control your life, let your life control your fears.


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The Theme of Fear in the Novel If I Stay by Gayle Forman. (2022, Apr 12). Retrieved from

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