Saturday, February 1, 2014

Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Page Count: 240
Genre: Contemporary YA
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**I received an advanced copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This in no way changed my opinion! I promise!**

Libraries will never be the same for Emily Beam. Not after her boyfriend, Paul, stormed into their high school library and threatened her with a loaded gun before burying himself in the stacks and turning it on himself. In the tragic aftermath, Emily is sent to live in Boston with her aunt for one month before being sent to boarding school, a school attended by the famous Emily Dickinson. Always a fan of poetry, but never considering herself as a poet, Emily suddenly cannot keep writing poetry out of her daily life. Feeling almost possessed by the school's former celebrity poet, Emily writes through her darkest days, turning them from tragedy into poetry, and then using those poems as stepping stones out of her confusion and loss.
If Emily had to tell somebody what happened in the Grenfell County High School Library, where would she begin? How desperate did Paul have to be to do what he did? Emily will never understand it, never. Didn't he realize that when he pulled the trigger, the world would go on without him in it? Didn't he know that dead, he'd be nowhere?
And We Stay starts with Emily Beam's rumor-filled arrival at the Amherst School for Girls. She arrives in the middle of the year, doesn't look like the other girls, doesn't dress like them, and sounds different. Immediately, it is obvious that something dark brought her to this place and soon we learn: her boyfriend Paul has killed himself in the library of their small-town high school. Given the recent news of extremely high numbers of school shootings, this was a dark read to get through, and the tragedy of Emily Beam's relationship with Paul was felt on every page and dripping off of each poem that is shared with us. These pieces of her relationship and the downfall of it is shared in small fragments as Emily faces each one, and this slow leaking of details kept me engrossed in the story, desperate to know more about what happened in the library on that day, and what lead to that moment.
And that's okay, because Emily usually has an answer, even in subjects she doesn't care for, such as trigonometry. She is not short of opinions, and she has some ideas about a good many things, but she hasn't a clue as to how her days with Paul spiraled away from her so fast and so final.
Given the tragedy of this story, it would have been served more justice if it was told first-person from Emily's point-of-view. And We Stay is written in third person, which is probably why it's so beautifully written, as it's easier to write with poetry and imagery when you're not in the voice of a character, but I wanted to be in Emily's head in high stress moments like the scenes in the library, and her feelings of being possessed or visited by the ghost of Emily Dickinson. As for the Emily Dickinson bit, this novel toyed with the idea of paranormal activity, but it never fully formed into much, leaving the possible possession or haunting ambiguous.
When K.T. walks away, Emily reaches into her book bag and lifts out her poetry notebook. She flips through the pages, unfolding the loose ones tucked into the back, the ones Mrs. Brooker recovered from the trash. What she sees in her words are contradictions and dichotomies and wild juxtapositions. What she witnesses is a girl on the run from her innocence. Does she want it back? No, not all of it. Does she want  giant eraser? Perhaps. Does she wish for a maze-free mind? That might help. As Madame Colche said the night before over coffee and dessert, fake it till you make it. Keep on keeping on. the only way to make sense of the backward is to move forward. 
When I was studying Fiction Writing in school, one of the questions that always came up when someone wrote a story taking place in another decade was: why this year? And We Stay takes place in 1995, but if you had told me that it took place in 2014, I would have believed you. Nothing in the story screamed '1995!!!!' to me, and it was distracting trying to find the significance of the year to the story. I couldn't find one, so it just made me wish that there was some added pop culture references or real news stories that could have filtered their way into Emily's story.

And We Stay was a tragic read, but it did not ruin my day upon finishing it. I was hooked on finding out the details and downfall of the relationship between Emily and Paul, and Emily's poetry was beautiful and revealing, but I found the 1995 year to be useless to the story, and Emily's narrative would've been better served if it had come from her perspective. Already, though, I'm finding it hard to jump right into another book, because this one is lingering in my mind.

**More like a 3.75!!**

Thank you to the publisher for this read!

1 comment:

  1. This does sound like an interesting read. I am glad to hear that you enjoyed it even with the potentially difficult subject material.