Jan 10, 2014

Book Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

Publisher:  Delacorte Press
Release Date:  January 28th, 2014
Pages:  240
Genre:  YA Contemporary
Source:  I received an e-ARC in exchange for an honest review.


Publisher's Description: "In And We Stay, Jenny Hubbard treats tragedy and new beginnings with a skilled, delicate hand. Her otherworldly verse and prose form a flowing monument to all the great storytellers of the past." --John Corey Whaley, author of the Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris award winner, Where Things Come Back

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.  Highlight the following for spoilers:  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.

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.


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7 comments:

  1. Great review, Bekka. And or once, I actually read a spoiler - I usually stay far, far away from them - and I'm glad I did. I think it's important to also talk about what you mentioned in the spoiler, and it has to be talked about in a very sensitive manner.

    Happy Friday :)

    Lexxie @ (un)Conventional Bookviews

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    1. Haha, I usually avoid spoilers too if I haven't read the book yet, but I really wanted to touch on that part of the story. I think it's an important topic to talk about it but also that it has to handled with the kind of respect it deserves - and I think the author nailed it.

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  2. I received this one for review, but after a few pages I felt oddly detached and couldn't get into the story, so I figured I'd go back to it later but as I'm not feeling much motivation too - and it doesn't seem worth it after this review - I think I'll just be skipping it. I think it had a lot of potential too, so it's a shame the ending could save the book, but thanks for this helpful review, Bekka!

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    1. I think the... extreme writing style will make this book either a hit or a miss. For me, it was a miss, and I think it will be so for a lot of readers. I think it would have been so much better if it were written in first person - it would have been easier to attach to the characters and it would have made the ending more powerful. Such a shame!

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  3. I read this book and am posting my review of it very soon, but although I did like it a little more than you, I also found that the spoiler was covered really well and took into account the sensitivity, and I adored the poems at the end of each chapter! It's definitely a hit and miss book, I'm sorry you enjoy it as much as you wanted to, however, it's a great review Bekka, I'm loving your co-blogger-ship with Lyn and Kara :)

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    1. Aw thank you!

      Regarding the spoiler, I think it's an important topic that is woefully underrepresented in YA, which is a shame because I think girls dealing with it could use a protagonist or two to identify with - it's not an easy thing to go through.

      I'm glad you enjoyed this one! The poems at the end of the chapters were the shining star of this book for me. I definitely look forward to more work from this author.

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  4. Ah damn, I was really looking forward to this one. I think I may give it a shot still, but my standards have definitely been lowered now. A book having characters a reader can't connect with is one of my biggest pet peeves in a book! But then the writing being beautiful is a big plus, so I guess we shall see how it goes for me! Great review Bekka! (:

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