Book Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

And We Stay begins in January, on Emily Beam’s first day at her new boarding school. Close to the end of the previous semester, her boyfriend Paul brought a stolen gun to school and killed himself. Following this tragic event, Emily’s family has decided that Amherst School for Girls is the best place for her. The story follows her first few months here, as she deals with her part in Paul’s life and death, and what will become of her own life. Throughout this time, she is drawn to the nearby home of Emily Dickinson, famous poet. Emily finds that she shares more than just a name with Dickinson, and begins writing poems which are instantly recognized as good quality by those who see them. Emily’s own voice comes through in the poems which are frequently interspersed in the prose of her story, providing multiple levels to the story. In the end, she discovers no significant truth about the universe, but plenty about herself and her need to continue to stay.

And We Stay is a very sad story. It is not, however, a classic tragedy. There is no horrific event, followed by an uplifting “I can survive anything”-type ending. The story itself is fairly passé. The reader does not experience the tragedy with Emily, but instead joins her a few months afterwards to watch her heal and discover who she will become. It is a story about surviving, but there is no basis for the hope Emily claims. The reader watches Emily grow and gain strength and hope, but there is no explanation. She simply becomes stronger by her own will, with no prodding reason. Her journey of self-realization and emotional maturity is unexplained, sudden, and confusing. Emily, who refuses to believe hardly anything religious, makes some large leaps of faith in her beliefs about reality and how life “really” is. She uses poetry to express her grief and ever-changing emotions, and while the poems offer a realistic glimpse into her mind, they do little to move the story along or explain any gaps in the plot. The author’s link of her character Emily to poet Emily Dickinson is expected, but created effectively. Hubbard does a good job of showing the parallels and connections without just blatantly stating them, and demonstrates an extensive knowledge of the poet.

Because of the gaps in Emily’s growth, and her unresolved search for meaning, I can only give And We Stay 2.5 out of 5 stars.

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