Published by Delacorte Press on January 28th, 2014
Genres: Contemporary, young adult
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When high school senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school library with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend Emily Beam, then takes his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, an angry and guilt-ridden Emily is shipped off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she encounters a ghostly presence who shares her name. The spirit of Emily Dickinson and two quirky girls offer helping hands, but it is up to Emily to heal her own damaged self.This inventive story, told in verse and in prose, paints the aftermath of tragedy as a landscape where there is good behind the bad, hope inside the despair, and springtime under the snow.
I’m feeling very, very conflicted after finishing this one. And We Stay has the potential to be a very powerful and beautiful book, and while it hit the mark in many places, ultimately, for me, it fell short one too many times.
I usually love reading books like this, darker contemporary that deals with issues that are so important. This is my favorite genre to read and one I often go back to when I need a “comfort read.” Sadly, though, I did not feel that connection when it came to reading And We Stay. I expected my heart to be broken, but I honestly felt very detached to it all, and many times I felt the book lost focus of what it was trying to do.
First thing I want to say though, is that the writing is absolutely beautiful. At the end of each chapter was a poem that the main character, Emily wrote. These short, simple pieces were striking and soulful and I very much looked forward to reading them when they came up. The prose, too, was lyrical and quite lovely. However, it was written in a very strange third person perspective that left me feeling detached from the characters. The writing took center stage but at the cost of the emotional attachment I craved from this book.
I also did not enjoy the obsession with Emily Dickinson. I know that sometimes people feel strange connections to other people – historical figures or other people we don’t actually have relationships with. I get that sometimes these connections fuel us, and we can even see things that aren’t actually there. I even understand that this was Emily Beam’s way of dealing with her problems. But it all felt stilted and forced. Emily Beam kept projecting her feelings and her experiences onto Emily Dickinson, and I didn’t see that connection at all, except in name. This focus on the poet really took away from the book.
However, I really do think And We Stay succeeded in many other areas. Hubbard was able to honestly portray grief and loss in a very realistic way. Emily was broken, but life still had to continue. She still had classes and rules she had to follow, she still had to move forward, as much as she did not want to. The author also masterfully showcased the way anger will take over grief and depression and turn us into monsters sometimes, a theme that is often overlooked. View Spoiler » « Hide Spoiler Finally, abortion has a prevalent role in And We Stay and I appreciated the sincerity and sensitivity in dealing with this topic. There are so few books, especially for younger people, that treat abortion as an actual option in the case of unwanted pregnancy. This is something that I am particularly sensitive to and I loved how it was handled in this book. [/spoilers]
And We Stay isn’t going to be for everyone, but I do think it will be well received – just not by me. There are topics in this book that aren’t easy to read about – questions about god and life, suicide, and depression being just a few. I think the writing was beautiful, and some of the characters were endearing, however I felt an overall sense of detachment throughout the whole book that made it impossible for me to rate any higher.