Tuesday, April 1, 2014

And We Stay - Jenny Hubbard

And We Stay Jenny Hubbard
And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 28, 2014
Source/Format: Netgalley || e-galley; Borrowed from the library || Hardcover
[I received this book for review from the publisher. This in no way affects the thoughts expressed in my review.]

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. (from Goodreads)

With contemporary novels, I often find it fascinating to read about difficult emotions, like grief and guilt. Each author has their own take on how it would affect someone, which manifests in their chosen character. This is the case with And We Stay.

Emily Beam, our main character, is suffering grief and guilt after her ex-boyfriend commits suicide. Her parents have removed her from the situation’s setting in her small hometown, and sent her to boarding school instead. This is her chance at a fresh start, a clean slate, to be in a place where no one knows a thing about what happened to her, what’s going on with her or why. 

Yet Emily remains haunted by what she did and didn’t do, and what she should and shouldn’t have done. In fact, the story alternates between Emily’s present day at Amherst and her memories of moments shared with Paul. By doing this, Hubbard manages to give us more insight into what happened in the past without fully dumping all the details in one big confession or memory. I enjoyed the slow unveiling of the good and the bad, and think that it’s done quite well.

Emily’s only outlet is through poetry, the results of which are sprinkled between the chapters of And We Stay. Emily’s poems are inspired by the things that have happened to her, her memories, and her feelings at any given moment. It’s raw, often unfinished, but the sparse words that make up each poem are really striking. I enjoyed reading them, and deciphering them for clues about Emily and her story.

There are a few other aspects that I really liked. There are the two, slightly odd friends that Emily makes at Amherst – her roommate K.T., and her classmate Amber. There’s also her French teacher, Madame Colche, who encourages Emily’s poetry and looks out for Emily. I also liked the fact that it was set at a boarding school, and one that was in a small town that was really just known for being where Emily Dickinson lived.

Even though I wound up liking And We Stay, it was honestly difficult to connect with Emily. As someone who used to express my feelings through poetry, that was the one bright spot where I felt I could overlap with her and get to know her. But otherwise, the use of the third person POV left me feeling detached from what was going on. This is a difficulty many others have expressed, and this will either make or break the book for other readers.

Still, there is something utterly compelling about And We Stay. It might not work for every reader out there, especially those who yearn to have a clear connection with their narrating character. But it certainly worked for me, in big part thanks to the poems that helped me get to know Emily a little bit better than I would have otherwise.

3 comments:

  1. I love stories that sprinkles in poetry, thanks for sharing!

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  2. This is such a lovely review. I'm so happy that while the third person perspective did get in your way of connecting, you were still able to somewhat because of the poetry. I really liked this book, and I know a lot of people had difficulty with it, so it always makes me happy when I see someone who's able to appreciate it for what it is.

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  3. I had a really hard time connecting with Emily too. I realized early on that this book just wasn't for me so I didn't make it to the end, especially with poetry not being my thing either. I'm glad you were still able to enjoy aspects of it!

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