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.
Book Design – Vikki Sheatsley Photo – Magdalena Lutek Rating – 3/5
This cover sports a beautiful photo, to be sure, but I feel that overall it isn’t as memorable as I want it to be. It’s a headless girl, and the YA world has seen so many of those. I like the choice of deep red for the author’s name, and the simple font is a good fit for the stark background. The photo is a good fit for this book, I just wish there were more to set this cover apart from others.
And We Stay is a beautifully written story about dealing with a unique situation and moving on from tragedy.
- writing – And We Stay is not a novel told in verse, but the writing is lyrical, like it’s all just a long poem told in free verse. Much of the story focuses on Emily beginning to move on after tragedy, so her thoughts are important. This is a story told in 3rd person, and Emily’s musings are simply stated – they aren’t dragged down by having to be constantly framed with ‘I thought’ or ‘Emily thinks,’ etc. The writing has a natural flow, broken up only by Emily’s poems, which are also beautiful, that give us a deeper look at her mindset.
- time frame – Rather than beginning with the traumatic event of Paul’s death, And We Stay opens with Emily’s arrival at her new boarding school. The events of Emily’s recent past are detailed in flashbacks in Emily’s mind. When she thinks back on things, contemplating how it happened and how it could have been different, we learn about the motivations behind Paul bringing a gun to school and Emily’s abortion. I really like how the flashbacks come up in an organic way, instead of being unexpectedly used as their own chapters like so many other books. I also love and appreciate that it’s not some big mystery what happened to Emily. So many stories conceal the big awful event from the reader for much too long and that’s something I dislike.
- Emily – Emily deals with her emotions by writing poems, like Emily Dickinson, and she feels a certain kinship to the long-deceased poet, whose words help her to move on. I love that Emily is, as she states emphatically, not named after Emily Dickinson. She doesn’t seek out Amherst due to its proximity to the Emily Dickinson house, and really doesn’t have much interest in the poet until she is informed of the house. Emily is also, to some extent, ruled by her emotions. She makes impulsive, split-second decisions that are, more often than not, not in her best interest.
- suicide + abortion – While some intense and traumatic things have happened in Emily’s life, the plot is not centered on exploring these things, or addressing them as social issues. And We Stay is not an “issues book.” Emily thinks about these things, but she doesn’t dwell on them. Her moving on process is thinking through how they happened, then expressing her feelings through poetry, and making a new life for herself far away at Amherst. Paul’s suicide and Emily’s abortion aren’t treated with kid gloves either. They are simply treated as things that happened: parts of Emily’s past that she is not defined by. So, in other words, And We Stay strikes the perfect balance between talking down to the reader and getting bogged down by the “issues” themselves.
- Paul – At first, Paul comes off as a scared and confused teenager. His girlfriend is pregnant, moving away, having an abortion, and breaking up with him. That’s a lot to handle, and even when he’s standing in the school library holding a gun, Paul almost seems not to realize fully the consequences of even having it, let alone using it. But, as we learn more details of Emily and Paul’s interactions, it becomes clear how selfishly Paul thinks. ‘Didn’t want to give me a bj? Well, it’s your fault alone that you’re pregnant then. Girlfriend wants an abortion? How selfish of her, gonna bring a gun to school because that’ll somehow help things.’
- Amber – Emily meets her friend Amber by catching her shoplifting. I have a couple of complaints about Amber. First, Amber is one of those people who is obsessed with telling you how badass they are. ‘I shoplift all the time! I’m named after a stripper!’ Thanks, Amber, you’ve already told us. Second, Amber, by way of the story, is meant to be Emily’s best friend. The sole fellow misfit in which Emily can confide. But, Amber seems to me to be merely a plot driver, meant to get Emily to finally have no choice but to go into Emily Dickinson’s house. How does Amber accomplish this? By doing something stupid, which is my 3rd complaint. Amber enjoys stealing; from shops, from her roommate, from dead people. She’s in trouble constantly, but continues to make dumb choices and never learns from her mistakes.
Her fast walk must look suspicious, as if she’s done something wrong. But she hasn’t. Only her brain has, like wishing it had a pack of matches so it could set itself on fire. – Loc. 436/2690
The blank page listens, but it can’t talk back. Like the trees from which it comes, it has an innate ability to keep secrets. – Loc. 965
Acquired: NetGalley (ebook)