Emily Beam’s high school boyfriend shot himself in front of her in their high school library. Reeling in the aftermath, Emily’s parents ship her off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts. There, she starts to rebuild her life through reading and writing poetry like her idol, Emily Dickinson. Over the course of the next few months, Emily lets herself heal with the help of the ghost of Dickinson, as well as some very real friends.
Darker in tone and much more contemplative than it first appears, Jenny Hubbard’s thoughtful, memorable book weaves together Emily’s past and present worlds as she seeks answers and peace from the traumatic events that haunt her. Lyrical, moving, and full of lush poetry, this is a case where the poems in the book add strength to the narrative and its characters as opposed to taking away from those elements.
Hubbard chooses to alternate between Emily’s present at the boarding school and her past with her boyfriend, Paul. The flashbacks to the past help add dimension to Emily’s current state, and her poetry, written in the present environment, add meaning as she finds new perspective on her life. This is a layered story, and the texture is complex. This is going to work better for sophisticated readers than it is for reluctant or struggling ones.
One minor nitpick: Hubbard chooses to set her story in 1995, which wouldn’t be an issue at all if the reader wasn’t constantly confronted with the date. While it seems as though Hubbard picked this date because it’s close enough to present day to relate to most teens but far back enough to not deal with cell phones and the internet, something about it stuck in my craw. I kept finding myself distracted by the chosen date, which takes away from how absolutely beautiful the novel is.
Although it will have limited appeal, it should still find an audience. This is smart, thoughtful, YA, and it doesn’t offer its readers any easy outs. Recommended.
And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard. Delacorte Press: 2014. Library copy.