Jenny’s Junior Year of High School involves a transfer to a prestigious all-girl boarding school in Massachusetts. The reason: her ex-boyfriend showed up to her old high school, with a gun, and killed himself in the library. OK, that sounded a bit like a game of Clue, but And We Stay is nothing to laugh at. This Printz Award Nominee (2015) reminds me of Looking for Alaska by John Greene in that also has darker passages into the psyche of adolescents and forming self-identites. While Alaska took us into the thoughts of the suicidal teen, And We Stay deals with the thoughts, questions, and anger of those left behind in possibly an accidental suicide. Even that is a question – was Paul intending to kill himself or was it an accident? There are no clear answers to this tragedy in Emily’s life.
An interesting element to the story is that it’s set in 1995, which is before school shootings began to be a common occurrence. I wonder why she set it 20 years ago, but it will still appeal to teens now, but I am curious to the time chosen.
- Notes to myself for the next article I’m doing for YALSA’s The Hub: this story brings up the shame and wanted secrecy of being left behind (or even the cause) of a suicide. Also, touches on how people deal with death. In I Was Here, the small town finds no surprise in Meg’s suicide using hindsight to process and understand that vibrate girl’s suicide. In this story, while people try to find solace in religion and a higher power, Hubbard clearly (and honestly) offers an example of how people process grief – finding understanding through religion. For Emily, however, that offers no peace or understanding – a fact I appreciate as many people face anger in the aftermath of a death and it is not only a respected stage of grief, but an honest human reaction to facing tragedy that one cannot understand initially, if ever. The mind needs to process (not to mention the heart) …. in the aftermath of tragedy trying to process and cope are her challenges. Questioning faith and God
But Emily knows that God had nothing to do with it: it was her human error that caused Paul to end his life….As Reverend Wright prepared,with ancient Biblical words, to return Paul to the earth, Emily sent a letter to God….. Paul’s funeral was forty- six days ago. She has not spoken to God since. (20)
Emily considers how girls’ brains are different and how she possibly could have saved Paul – an often guilt ridden thought left by those following a suicide. Toward the end Emily has come to accept Paul’s death (time and a new environment surely helped) and developed a less angry tone to remembering Paul, “Emily knows she will always remember Paul, but she isn’t sure where it is he will stay. She hopes he’ll stay in her head. She will need room in her heart for other things, other people.” This makes me rethink the title of And We Stay from focusing on the people left behind in a death to thinking those that die still stay in our hearts and minds.
An added bonus to Hubbard’s writing is the comparison and insight to Emily Dickinson’s life and poems – Dickinson is the namesake of the school. But besides some enjoyment offered to our narrator Emily, the interest in poetry as a form of expression assists our Emily as she processes Paul’s death. It also offers her a connection to Emily Dickinson while she’s hiding her past, shipped off from her family, and thrust into a new world – one that knows nothing about her and in which she feels alone. We (the reader) are gifted with poems from both Emily Dickinson and Emily Beam – classics and originals, from Dickinson and Hubbard. I especially liked the one with the take on the name/word Paul. Hubbard is not only a great novelist, but also a nice poet. This is a great story, covering two serious life events (death and an abortion), but it also covers the difficult process people go through in dealing with tragedy to heal and also develop deeper understanding to their own self-identity and how identities change and grow.