I was intrigued by the synopsis for And We Stay immediately – it had a mysterious, almost ghosty feel to it, plus I liked the idea of incorporating Emily Dickinson along with a character named Emily who writes poetry. It’s like an English major and YA fanatic’s dream come true.
There were several things I liked about this story.
One, Emily Beam is an interesting protagonist. In the beginning I almost had a feeling like I couldn’t trust her, but then I figured out she was just as confused as I was. She was clearly trying to get over something tragic, and watching her work through it using her poetry and her blooming friendship with K.T. was fascinating.
That leads me to the poetry. Emily’s poetry really was Dickins-esque. I loved every word related to the two Emilys and the way their poetry was woven into the story. Emily Beam’s poetry grows and develops throughout the novel, and since it’s written in third person instead of first person, the poetry gives us valuable insight into Emily Beam’s thought process. Really, really, superbly, well done.
There’s a great cast of supporting characters here. From Emily Beam’s old English teacher to her ex-boyfriend’s sister to her French teacher, her roommate, and other students at Amherst School for Girls. They’re all believable. Flawed, not stereotypical, and perfect for this story. At several points throughout the story I wanted to find and strangle Emily’s parents, but beyond that, the characters were great.
And what a setting… I mean, you can’t get more fun and sort of creepy than Emily Dickinson’s old stomping grounds. The facts that were woven into this were interesting and added so much to the story.
I also respect the way Jenny Hubbard handled some very heavy topics. From a shooting in a high school library to teen pregnancy to abortion, Hubbard never treats the heavy topics like they’re no big deal. And, as a woman who is whole-heartedly pro-life, I actually appreciate the real, raw, brutally honest way that Hubbard treats abortion. I almost stopped reading when it became clear that Emily Beam had an abortion after Paul died, but I kept reading because of how realistically she portrayed the emotional torment that results from an abortion.
There were a few things that kept me from giving And We Stay my total and complete backing, most of which has to do with personal preference, honestly. For example, I really have a strong preference for first person narratives. I love getting to hear every thought of the protagonist. It makes me feel connected to them in a way that a third person narrative can’t do for me.
Another thing was the quick verb tense shifts. While this led, in part, to the mysterious sort of confusing in a good way feel to the book, Emily’s story would shift from past to present so subtly that you had to really pay attention to make sure you didn’t miss anything important.
Most importantly, while I know and understand that Emily Dickinson’s Christianity remains up for debate based on various poems and letters and statements and actions, I wish Hubbard hadn’t hit the religion so hard in this. It didn’t feel like it was left with a very hopeful tone faith-wise, so I wish it hadn’t been there quite so much. Maybe it hit me more significantly because I’m very sensitive to that, especially in YA titles, but I felt like the whole story would have been even better with less emphasis on the faith crisis, both of Emily Beam and Emily Dickinson.
All of that being said, I really enjoyed And We Stay. Especially for anyone interested in seeing a literary figure like Emily Dickinson explored as the background for a modern day story, I highly recommend this! Find it here on Amazon or at your local retailer.