Tuesday, January 21, 2014

ARC Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

240 pages
Expected publication: January 28th, 2014 
Published by: Delacorte Press

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 wasn't sure what to expect from this one but I jumped at the chance to review it because I've never read anything like it before. And We Stay deals with a complicated and delicate subject matter, one that could've been glorified or handled inappropriately. Fortunately, this novel is so well written that you get lost in Emily Beam's life and become part of her tragic story. The fact that her boyfriend chose to end his own life in front of her, at their school, is dissected and presented in a very realistic way. What I loved most about this novel is that Emily doesn't blame Paul for what he did. Most of what we learn about Paul and his life before that fateful day at the Grenfell County High School Library is rather positive, making his decision to take his own life heartbreaking for the reader. 

The story starts at the end, when Emily Beam arrives at the Amherst School for Girls, and works its way through Emily's past. Both the past and the present are told in a really interesting and unique way. The poems portray everything that is left unspoken while events from the past are intertwined with moments from her present. Little reminders sneak into Emily's daily life, which make her relive those moments in time with Paul that she wants to forget.

Emily's character is very interesting. She's a complicated protagonist; isolated and sometimes rather rude. She lives in her head, which makes her poetry so telling and important to her journey. I couldn't help but be moved by her story and infuriated by her decisions when Paul was alive. Emily's roommate, K.T., is a bizarre character. I'm still not sure whether I liked her or not. As for Emily's boyfriend, I am still fascinated by the complexity of a character who made such an awful decision but inspirited Emily to write so many beautiful and heartbreaking poems.

One aspect of the novel that I overlooked---or completely forgot about---is the presence of Emily Dickinson. To say that it was a pleasant surprise is the understatement of the century. I've been obsessed reading her poetry since middle school so having her be such a dominant part of this novel is amazing.  Which brings me to my next point: the poetry. Jenny Hubbard has a gift and I appreciate her existence very much. The poems in this novel were windows to Emily's soul and her personal struggles. They take Hubbard's story to the next level. They reach into your soul and make you reread them. They make you cherish them for what they are: works of art. Every single poem is exquisite and deserves to be read and admired by as many people as possible. 

The only issue I had with this one is that sometimes the writing overshadowed the story itself (which is a compliment to Jenny Hubbard and her stunning poetry skills). Sometimes I was so caught up and emotionally damaged from a poem that I couldn't react to the story as it was unfolding. I also wish that the dialogue was stronger but it isn't a deal-breaker. The novel stands at 240 pages long, which usually means that the story is powerful enough to be so short. This is exactly the case for And We Stay. Hubbard used every single one of those pages to tell a very poignant story that will haunt me for a very long time.

Can we just talk about the cover for just a second? It is gripping and beautiful. I would gravitate to it even if I didn't know anything about the story itself. However, what you might not know at first sight is that the story is as stunning as the cover. Actually, to call it stunning doesn't do it justice. The writing is so spectacular that there wasn't a simple moment where I wasn't rejoicing at the beauty of it all. 

If you want to read a very emotional and expertly written novel about lost and the effect of suicide on those left behind, definitely pick this one up. I would not only recommend this novel to just about anyone but I also cannot wait for January 28th so I can buy myself a copy.

Note: I received an eARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 
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