Book Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

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.

My Rating: 2.5 cupcakes

When I read a book about grief or loss, I expect it to resonate with me in some way. I expect it to make me feel or make me think… and, unfortunately, And We Stay did none of those things.

And We Stay is told in third person present tense which definitely made it difficult to read. Although the prose was beautifully written and often gave me writing envy, the narrative style made it incredibly hard to connect with Emily. Her circumstances were told to me, rather than shown, leading me to feel very detached from her character – despite the fact that I knew I should be sympathizing with her. The only points where I was able to make any sort of emotional connection with Emily was while I was reading her poetry at the end of each chapter, but even those weren’t enough to make Emily a substantial main character.

While it was difficult to understand Emily’s emotions, it was virtually impossible to understand the motivations of any of the other characters. After reading, I still don’t quite understand why Paul committed suicide — the reason behind the action was eventually uncovered, but I don’t feel like I truly had a good enough grasp on his personality to understand the emotions that drove him to such an act.

Overall, And We Stay had a lot of potential to be a book that I really enjoyed, but the third person present tense left me feeling very detached from both the story and the characters.

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