by Jenny Hubbard
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Reading level: YA
Book type: prose novel
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.
(synopsis from Goodreads)
I really thought I'd like this book. But, at 47%, I feel like I'm reading page after page and getting nowhere. For such a short book, it's extremely slow... so slow, in fact, that I'm beginning to wonder if it's warping the space-time continuum somehow.
Going into the book, I knew the subject matter was going to be heavy. And it is. But I can't really care about any of it because of the way the author wrote the story. The style is very detached. It's written in the third person, mostly in the present tense (with flashbacks in the past tense). But it's almost as if the author made a conscious decision to separate the character from her readers. We're told (rather than shown) how Emily's feeling, and when the author refers to Emily by her full name, it comes across as really formal and alienates the reader from the characters even more. I've read newspaper articles that weren't so detached!
I thought I might like the book because of the addition of the verse sections, but And We Stay is really nothing like a verse novel. The structure reminds me more of Mary E. Pearson's The Adoration of Jenna Fox, which is mainly a prose novel with a few poems interspersed throughout. I really wasn't crazy about the poems in this book, however; they seemed more like filler than anything else, and did little other than reinforce what we'd already learned.
And now we come to my biggest complain with the book: There are too many secrets. The author holds too much back, and it got to the point where I felt like I was being manipulated as a reader. The secrets come out slowly, in tiny little bits. The author also chose to set the book in the winter of 1994-1995, which further adds to the problem. None of the girls at Emily's school can just Google her to find out the real story of what happened. They (and we) are at the mercy of Emily and the author for information... whenever they choose to reveal it. And, after a while, it got so tiresome that I just didn't care anymore.
So, in the final analysis, the reasons why I didn't finish And We Stay are as follows:
- too slow
- unrelatable main character
- reader manipulation