January 28, 2014
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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.In And We Stay, author Jenny Hubbard looks at a school shooting very differently. Not only is the shooting not as large and dramatic as might be expected, the event itself is also not the focus of the novel. Rather, it's Emily, the victim (or most direct one) and how she's affected in the aftermath that is the focus of And We Stay.
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
Neither Hubbard's novel nor Emily's character come at you with a lot of visceral emotion. It might seem, given all that Emily's been through, that she would be just bursting with it all. Instead, she seems to go the other way. She comes across as almost detached.
It's understandable that she doesn't want to tell everyone what happened back home (and with the story set pre-internet in 1995, that works). Yet, it also feels that she doesn't want to tell herself what's happened. Her poetry - most of the plot is told in prose but Emily's poetry, while part of the story also tells the story, too - does give a bit of a glimpse into what she's keeping under wraps.
Every once in a while, we're given just enough, from Emily, to know that not only is she really struggling, but that she is aware of it: "'I don't feel strong on the inside,' As a matter of fact, Emly wants to say, my insides feel like a hurricane, and not the eye part, either." (34%)
Emily keeps things bottled up and when things start to become too much for her, when the poetry, the secrets, the connection with Emily Dickinson, and her past all comes together, it's clear something has to happen. I wasn't sure if just enough happened for me at the end, but some grand something would have been out of place for Emily.
If we had gotten to know Emily better - the Emily before who was a cheerleader but seems to have no friends, who could turn to her parents, but isn't close to them, etc - it may have been easier to see a fuller future for Emily past the ending and, therefore, find it more satisfying. So much seems focused on Emily Beam understanding and getting closer to Emily Dickinson, the girl and the poet, though, that we don't get all of Emily Beam, the poet and the girl.
One odd thing was how often main character Emily was referred to by her full name. It was likely to differentiate her from Emily Dickinson who was mentioned quite frequently and possibly avoid confusion, but was still odd. Perhaps the author wanted to keep the two 'Emily's in the narrative, to have the repetition of their names, but I wish this hadn't been in third person. While we wouldn't have gotten the same Emily/Emily juxtaposition with a first person narration, it may have helped create a connection between Emily Beam and the reader.
It is still a good read. The poetry is very well done and the prose is, itself, very poetic. While I wish I had gotten to know Emily better, I will definitely take how much I did get to know her over not meeting Emily Beam, K.T., Amber or any of the other characters at all.
thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for my egalley to review