Another suicide book! That’s two of them back to back. And, like, five of them since the beginning of the year.
AND WE STAY was a Printz Honor book in 2014. I loved both of the other Printz books I read—I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN and GRASSHOPPER JUNGLE—so I had high hopes for AND WE STAY.
Ultimately, though, it wasn’t for me.
Emily Beam’s boyfriend killed himself. In the aftermath, Emily was shipped off to an all-girls boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, down the street from where her favorite poet, Emily Dickinson, lived and wrote.
It is the first of many coincidences in the book.
The story of Paul—Emily’s boyfriend—unfolds in pieces throughout the book, interspersed with Emily’s first semester at her new school and with pieces of poetry she writes to sort herself out.
I’m not really against poetry. I love Tennyson, and I enjoyed the pieces that Jandy Nelson interspersed in THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE. AND WE STAY had a similar feel in that regard—the main character writing poems to express things that she otherwise couldn’t—but I never really connected with Emily. Everything felt so contrived, so expected, and, at times, it ventured into after-school special territory.
The ending left me feeling cheated as well.
That being said, language-wise, AND WE STAY was beautiful. Emily’s poetry seeped into the prose as well, but there was a rather strange narrative distance: the book was told in third-person present, which might be my least favorite point-of-view ever. Part of that is my own reading experience: when I was younger I was into fan-fiction for a while, and the worst writers tended to write in third person past—except they couldn’t keep their tenses straight, and so inevitably veered between past and present. So third person present always makes me feel like I’m reading something that was badly edited. It’s a weird hangup I have, so when it was added to my other problems, it made it hard for me to enjoy the book.
That's not to say there wasn't a lot to recommend this book. It had one of the most honest portrayals of teenage romance and sex I've read in a while: the tentative first steps, the conflicting desires, the compromises Emily made or that Paul made. They both made some poor choices and it was nice to see those choices (and their consequences) honestly addressed. Emily and Paul both felt very real.
Overall, though, AND WE STAY didn’t really do it for me. But I know—with absolute certainty—there are people out there whose lives it will touch, and I’m glad for that. I’m glad for them.
AND WE STAY was the 50th book I read in 2015. One of the most important things I've learned in doing that is just how specific my tastes—everyone's tastes—really run. And though AND WE STAY wasn't perfect for me, I know it will be perfect for others.