And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

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?

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2 thoughts on “And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard

  1. Lisa

    I haven’t read it yet, but regarding the time, is there some sort of “If only she’d had a cell phone this wouldn’t have happened” event? Or, was Jenny Hubbard herself teaching or attending boarding school in 1995?

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    1. andreaingala Post author

      Lisa – that’s exactly it! I had to think about WHY she would set it then, instead of the story providing that explanation. The cell phone argument was constantly a thought for me because they are so ubiquitous today in a kid’s life that a time change would seem like a tidy solution to getting out of the “Why didn’t she just call someone?” problem. Hubbard being at a boarding school – I hadn’t thought of that. BUT, and not to sound insensitive, who cares if she did? It still adds nothing to the content and quality of the story, which I think lacks because of this strange setting choice. ….Or maybe I’m just being a hater.

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