And We Stay - Jenny Hubbard

Jenny Hubbard's And We Stay has a lot going on. Emily Beam is haunted by events preceding her move to Amherst School for Girls in Massachusetts; Emily's ex-boyfriend killed himself during a moment of panic after bringing a gun to school. Emily is angry, but she also feels guilty, as though his death is somehow her fault, for breaking up with him. At her new school, she befriends her roommate, K.T., but manages to get herself into trouble time and time again by refusing to follow the rules, even though she has so many supporting individuals helping her to recover from her traumatic past. Along the journey of healing, Emily discovers her love for poetry and its cathartic properties, and her love for Emily Dickinson becomes more and more important as she researches the late poet's life.

As I said, there is a lot going on. There's love, sex, death, suicide, pregnancy, kleptomania, abortion, guilt, and poetry. It seems like it would be rather overwhelming in a novel of only 200 pages. But apart from a few moments, the novel manages to flow relatively smoothly. Hubbard's writing is solid, with only a few moments of preachiness (or so it felt to me) evidenced later in the book.

While I like that Emily develops throughout the plot, I do feel that she is very much manipulated by those around her: parents, peers, teachers, (ex-)boyfriend. Her mother uses a very manipulative and odd way of convincing her to get an abortion:
"Think on this," said her mother. "What if you had the baby, and, when he grew up, he took a gun into his high school and threatened somebody with it? Or worse, killed somebody? Think on it, why don't you?"
And Paul (the ex-boyfriend) turns the situation into a way to blame Emily for being pregnant, rather than understanding his part in the pregnancy:
     "You know what?" she said. "This wouldn't be happening if you'd worn a condom."  
     "Oh, so it's my fault!" he yelled down at her. 
     "No, it's our fault!" 
     "Wrong, it's your fault!" 
     "How is it my fault?" 
     Paul's gray eyes turned to steel. "You could have just given me a blow job. You know that, Emily? How easy life would be if you'd just done it."
This is unfortunately a common occurrence in YA fiction when it comes to issues around pregnancy and sex. Somehow the fact that a woman is the one to become pregnant, that makes her more responsible? I don't think so! This conversation is indicative of how quickly a seemingly stable relationship can fall apart once sex and children become part of the equation. Especially when it comes to younger relationships.

Overall, the book is well-structured, and Emily is a complicated character that readers can get close to. I also enjoyed the poems and the connections with Emily Dickinson. So while I do find moments to be a bit melodramatic and preachy, I do think that the book provides food for thought and some interesting characters and situations to consider.

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