Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

Saturday, January 25, 2014
Title: And We Stay
Author: Jenny Hubbard
Genre: young adult, contemporary
Series: N/A
Pages: 240
Published: expected January 28 2014
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3/5

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.

For the right kind of audience, And We Stay is going to be a book that really resonates emotionally. Unfortunately, due to several issues I had with the narrator's voice, I was not a part of that particular audience while reading Hubbard's sophomore novel. Even though I can't actively participate in the love for the story in And We Stay, I can absolutely vouch that Hubbard's prose is ethereal, lovely, and poignant. This is an author who is a genuine wordsmith; who knows how to create vibrant imagery without veering purple. However, main character Emily Beam just was too aloof and removed for me to connect with due to the third person present tense used throughout the novel.

Hubbard can write, and write well, but perhaps not as effectively as one would like. Third person is a notoriously hard perspective to pull off with pathos, and the present tense does Hubbard and Emily no favors either. Everything - from class schedules to what I imagine is heartfelt poetry - feels and reads the same in Emily's voice. She is dealing with incredible amounts of grief, but I heard none of it in her narration. It's far too impersonal and passive for me to really connect at all with the character. The flashbacks that deal with the day of/days leading up to Paul's death came the closest to resonating, but it's too little.  

There were a couple things that did stand out for me while reading (besides the prose itself.) The inclusion of Emily Dickinson as a role model/parallel for Emily Beam was interesting and fresh, the friendship between Emily and K.T. was healthy and realistic, and the smattering of feminism that cropped up every once in a while was light and subtle. 

The reviews for And We Stay are going to be all over the place. How much you will like it depends on how much pretty prose can make up for the lack of character investment or emotion. I know going into books about suicide and grief that I want to cry; I want to feel for these characters, to understand their pain and watch them recover. None of that happened here. Objectively, I could see the loveliness of the writing without feeling anything while reading it. And We Stay is a cold, uninviting book and while I can understand that could be a narrative choice used on purpose, or my own interpretation, my enjoyment was severely hampered by the arms' length the book kept me at for all 240 pages.

This is a book that I wanted to like more than I actually ended up liking, sadly. It's another case of "it's me, not you"  and I hope that the right audience does find their way to Hubbard's unusual mix of prose and verse.

1 comment:

  1. I thought maybe I wasn't crazy about this one because I'm not an Emily Dickinson super fangirl. But I think it's a mix of that, the fact that I'm not interested in poems as part of the story, and the narrative choice not working for me.

    By the end of the year, I think this is either going to be completely forgotten or, if it's lucky, "that Emily Dickinson one".


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