Monday, January 6, 2014

Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard


Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Goodreads 
Release date: January 28th, 2014
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Series: No
Source: ARC
Rating: Poetic, lyrical prose that's truly gorgeous but, ultimately, a bit distancing.

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"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.

8 comments:

  1. Allllllllllllllllllllllllll of this. ALL OF IT.

    This book was beautiful, but I just didn't FEEL it the way I needed to. The suicide, the depression, the THING you didn't discuss, these are all SO BIG and yet I didn't feel an ounce of the weight I should have. And much of it had to do with the beautiful writing. It's exactly like you said - an enormous wall built up right between us and the characters. And the Emily Dickinson thing? Can you say forced, and contrived, and trying wayyyy too hard?

    Also, did you think that thing (with Boston, etc) was a twist? I'm pretty sure it was eluded to the entire time, or maybe I just read into really deeply early on because I can identify? Interesting, interesting.

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  2. A book with beautiful writing but difficult to connect with? Hmmm, on one side I'm very tempted to read this, but on the other... I'm not sure. Maybe I need to add a shelf on my TBR called Tentive for books I'm not entirely sure about?

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  3. The writing in this book sounds like it was magical! It's a bummer that you weren't able to connect with the characters the way you wanted to. I'm not sure if this would be the kind of book that I would like, but I'm curious about it now!

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  4. Okay now I'm really glad I didn't request this one. I just don't think it would work for me at all. Poetry bores the crap outta me. Plus the fact that you didn't connect with the characters, really convinces me that this is not a book I'd enjoy.

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  5. Very interesting sounding book! I've been debating reading it for awhile now, but I can't decide if I'd like it or not. I enjoy poetry sometimes. Emily Dickinson is actually my favorite poet (either her or Robert Frost. They're kind of tied), so I'd like to try it. However, 3rd person present and I don't always connect well. I prefer to be there in the head of the protagonist. It's just. . .deeper. Either way, great review!

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  6. I have this book for review as well! After reading your review, I'm admittedly a little more hesitant about it. But still, I'm lured in by the fact that you were able to point out how beautifully it's written. It sounds like the kind of book that would delight me with its words and for that, I'm inclined to give it a fair shot.

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  7. The third person thing didn't work for me at all when I first started this book. I think I just assumed it would be in first because the blurb alluded to so many similarities between this and her debut novel (which was told in first person). So I wasn't feeling this for the first few chapters and took a little break. Then I started again from the beginning and it actually did work for me the second time around. Weird. I also feel like the distancing effect might be intentional. I think Emily wants to distance herself from her past rather than deal with it. I also should be less lazy and write my own review instead of blurting all this out on yours, which is stellar by the way. (Your review is, not my blurting. Anyway.)

    Yess, the writing was stunning. I loved how Hubbard wove poetry into the entire story, like you mentioned. I think I'm with Bekka on the spoilerspoilershockingreveal thing. I also felt like she alluded to it very early on in the novel. Thus why I asked you if it would count as a spoiler. The "Emily Beam" thing was weird. I don't know, the entire combination of the voice and the writing felt so personal and impersonal at the same time. Maybe it worked for me because that's how I often "deal" with stuff. I think I told you that the people I grew up with are very much "so that happened" about a lot of stuff, so maybe that's why I connected to Emily after all, because it's something I recognise? I don't know.

    Seriously. That cover. I think I have tights like that but GIRL, put on a jacket. It's snowing. Your arms alone aren't going to do you much good. Great review, Gillian! I'm jealous at how eloquently you expressed all this.

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