Monday, January 6, 2014
Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Release date: January 28th, 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Rating: Poetic, lyrical prose that's truly gorgeous but, ultimately, a bit distancing.
"In And We Stay, Jenny Hubbard treats tragedy and new beginnings with a skilled, delicate hand. Her otherworldly verse and prose form a flowing monument to all the great storytellers of the past." --John Corey Whaley, author of the Michael L. Printz and William C. Morris award winner, Where Things Come Back
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.
Certain people are going to absolutely adore this book. There is so much to commend in Hubbard's sophomore novel, and most of it is in the prose. Holy crap, but this woman can put words together. The main character, Emily, is a budding poet, and poetry suffuses every word of this book. Every description is breathtaking--descriptions of Emily's pain, of the Amherst winter, of words unfurling in her brain in the middle of the night. Emily's own poems conclude every chapter, and they're pretty astonishing as well. If you're someone who reads for prose, originality, and depth of thought, than this story of the grief-stricken and confused Emily Beam is for you.
If, like me, you read to be inside characters' heads and to feel what they feel, you might struggle a bit with And We Stay. The book is written in third person present, which to me is the equivalent of constructing a giant wall between the reader and the protagonist.
The third person and the present both serve the poetic aspects of the book, but they don't do much to make me get inside the mind of Emily. A couple months ago, her boyfriend, Paul, threatened her with a gun in their school library and then shot himself. Fast forward to January, and Emily's starting over at Amherst School for Girls, a boarding school in Massachusetts. And not just any town in Massachusetts, but the very same hometown of the famous poet Emily Dickinson. Seeeeeee, so many parallelssss.
This book is definitely a novel. There are beautiful metaphors, weighty thoughts, parallels and symmetries and all sorts of this I absolutely adore. I found myself moaning at the beauty of what was on the page, but it took me so, so, so long to connect to our Emily Beam, who at first seems mostly a name on a page. (It didn't help that the narrator kept referring to her as "Emily Beam", as opposed to Emily). It was strange. The author definitely tells, not shows. She shows me grief and sadness and confusing and emptiness, and she does so in completely crazy gorgeous ways. But I didn't fell them, really. A little, you know? Like, on the periphery? Which, you know. I prefer my reads to bludgeon me with feelings.
Again, this is going to light some people's worlds on fire. (Also there is something intensely, INTENSELY spoilery that I can't discuss, but... well, it's a huge aspect of the novel, and one that very much surprised me. Ultimately, I liked it, but whoaaaaa. This book is heavy stuff.). Emily's thoughts are incredibly deep, and there was really something lovely about watching her discover herself and her poetry, learn to make friends (and finally show some personality, hallelujah), deal with her past with Paul, and watching her trudge through a miserable Massachusetts winter that made me devoutly thankful I live in California.
I wanted to get more wrecked by this. I wanted to get deeper into Paul, and Paul and Emily together. I'm still not sure exactly why he killed himself. I mean, I know the reason, but I don't know why that would bring him to commit suicide. I didn't get to know enough about Paul to see what in his personality and his life brought him to that point. And I know I complimented the parallels earlier, but when it came to the parallels between Emily Beam and Emily Dickinson, well... was this book trying to be mystical? Magical realism? I'm not really sure. 'Twas a bit much.
But And We Stay didn't leave a terribly huge impact on me, which is unfortunate, beyond the truly stunning writing and the gorgeous cover (I can haz those tights? Pretty please?). If you're not of a poetic bent, And We Stay will bore the snot out of you, but if you are, I recommend taking a chance. Who knows? You might connect to Emily more than I did, and you'll certainly connect with the prose.