Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release: January 28, 2014
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.And We Stay is a quiet-but-beautiful story. Quiet, because it is set twenty years ago in 1995, in a time before the buzz of media set the beat of human life, in a time when more teenagers could still stop and think and write letters and relish solitude. Quiet, because a tragic event in the protagonist's past blankets her life like the Massachusetts snow against which the story is set. Quiet, because she deals with her grief by locking it inside.
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.
Beautiful, because when her emotions do leak out, they are raw and heartbreaking, spilling into lines of poetry and prose that glow.
And that is what And We Stay is all about—releasing the sadness of a tragedy so you can heal. Throughout the novel, Emily Beam confronts memories from her boyfriend's suicide, and in doing so, she prepares herself to move on. It is a gradual, slow process full of tantalizing, perfectly-placed flashbacks that always leave readers begging for more when they return to Emily's present-day boarding school life. And that is exactly why I loved it. Instead of experiencing a magical epiphany, a moment in which she suddenly feels ready to move on from the confrontation in the library, Emily comes to terms with her boyfriend's decisions and her decisions piece by piece, day by day. Her recovery develops slowly and naturally, matching the languid plot.
Emily accomplishes this healing not through therapy or romance, like we often see in YA novels, but through friendship and poetry. Her new boarding school friends play an integral role in Emily's character—they listen to her, care about her, and try to make her feel at home at Amherst School for Girls—and most of all, Emily faces her past by writing about it. She struggles to talk about her pre-boarding school life, but she effortlessly spins her thoughts into stanzas. For readers, the poems are Emily Dickinson-esque works of art, but for Emily, each poem is a catharsis, a way to deal with the pain she feels.
Emily's poems not only provide a means for her to heal; they also provide a means for readers to watch that healing process up close. While the third-person prose that tells most of the story is emotionally and gorgeously crafted, Emily's own words convey an intimacy that the narration never could capture. As a result, readers get a front-row view of the protagonist's recovery and will even find themselves relating to her. Emily and I have little in common aside from our shared name and passion for words, but she describes her feelings so effectively that I felt as if we could be the same person. Easily the most well-written and emotional poetry I have ever read from a YA character, Emily's work will speak to readers of all kinds and vault her story high above the average "overcoming grief" novel.
It may be early on in the year, but I can say without a doubt that And We Stay will make my best of 2015 list. My review barely scrapes the surface of all it has to offer, so stop reading my disjointed thoughts and go read this book. It is a story of pain, a story of love and friendship, a story of the choices we make and the choices we do not get the chance to make. And above all else it is a story of never giving up on life, of staying.