Reviewed for this blog by Andrea, Windsor Library
Emily Beam, high school student at a prestigious boarding school in New England, is slowly coming to terms with the tragic events of her past while developing a love for the poetry of Emily Dickinson and writing some herself. In the recent past, Emily’s boyfriend shot himself in the library of their former high school and left Emily to deal with it.
I looked at this book for a couple of reasons: author Jenny Hubbard was nominated for the Morris Award for debut fiction last year with Paper Covers Rock, And We Stay has 4 starred reviews, and it has a connection to Important American Poetry by paying homage to Emily Dickinson. All great factors for recognition.
Ah, kids at boarding schools. What is so appealing? Is it the unique environment of seclusion, elitism, and academia? It does have great potential for weaving together history and modern-day. It has gravitas. But does it translate to good quality literature?
As with anything, the answer is sometimes yes and sometimes no. And We Stay falls somewhere in the middle. The pace is wonderful; each layer of Emily’s backstory is slowly peeled back, creating a heartbreaking, dismal picture of all that’s been lost. Emily’s new friends, while sparsely drawn, are strange and wonderful. And her budding love of poetry is played out well with her inclusions of each piece.
There are, however, too many elements that fall flat. Inexplicably, the setting is 1995, though this has no significance nor adds any depth to the story. Her connection to Emily Dickinson felt forced and the storyline that involves her dress was a bit outlandish. Overall, Emily Beam herself was distant. Is this a mechanism to show how she’s dealing with the world outside herself? I mentioned in a comment on Linda’s post of We Were Liars that I don’t want to be convinced of anything in the writing: the whys and hows and whats. I don’t want to think about why it’s set in the mid-90s; a great story will tell the reader that on its own. But that’s how I felt while reading this one. Maybe I’m just not feelin’ it at all. Anyone else pick this one up?