Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Review: And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

Title: And We Stay
Author: Jenny Hubbard
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Release date: January 28th 2014
Pages: 240
Genre: Young Adult contemporary
Source: NetGalley - I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
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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.
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Even though I wasn't too big  a fan of Jenny Hubbard's debut, Paper Covers Rock, I wanted to give And We Stay a try because it sounded like the dark contemporaries I usually enjoy. Sadly, though, my feelings about And We Stay were pretty much the same that I'd had about Paper Covers Rock: Jenny Hubbard's writing is really good, but I just couldn't connect with it.

I think part of the problem is that the novel is written in 3rd person present. 3rd person present is always a hard sell for me - there's been a couple of books that have been able to pull it off, but it usually makes it really hard to connect with the characters. Especially for a story that focuses so much on understanding the main character's thoughts and living inside her head, I thought that 3rd person present was just kind of a strange choice.

The pacing and the random flashbacks contributed to my feeling detached from the story as well. It almost feels like there are two separate stories in And We Stay: the flashbacks to what happened between Emily and Paul, and Emily's new life at boarding school. We get to read about both parts of the story in detail, even if the story of Paul and Emily is out of order and in random flashbacks throughout the novels. What is missing, though, is the connection between the two, the story of how what Emily has been through is affecting her now. When I read the synopsis of the novel, I expected the book to show how Emily is struggling with her past and how she ultimately moves on, but I didn't really get either of those things from the novel. Emily's feelings are underdeveloped, and I didn't get to witness the character growth I was hoping for.

The characters are also disappointing. Since I couldn't connect with the story, I couldn't connect with the main character Emily, and she stayed a very bland character for me. The story hints at issues between Emily and Paul, so I wanted to see more of a development of Paul's character, Emily's grief and understanding of Paul are never really elaborated on, so he stayed one-dimensional as well. K.D. and Amber, Emily's friends at boarding school, had potential and seemed like intriguing characters, but we never really get to know them, either.

I also didn't love the poetry in And We Stay. This is really just a personal preference, though, since I'm not a big fan of poetry in general. The synopsis claims that And We Stay is written partly in prose and partly in verse, but I don't really think that's accurate: the story is written in prose, and we have Emily's poetry in between chapters. For me, all the stuff about poetry and about Emily Dickinson's life were kind of boring, but I know those parts could be interesting for someone who enjoys poetry more than I do.

And We Stay just isn't the book for me. It's very literary and the writing is good, so if you enjoy literary YA and poetry, this might be more your thing. But I felt very detached form the story and the characters, so I just never really got into it.


  1. Aw, it's too bad you didn't like this one more, especially since so many other people loved it! I know you're the kind of reader who really values connecting to the book, so I can see why this one didn't work for you, but as a lover of literary YA, I'm definitely going to give it a try. Thanks for letting me know not to anticipate brilliant character development, though - now I know just what to expect.


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