And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Emily has been sent to a private board school in Amherst so that she doesn’t have to face all of the questions at her public high school. Her boyfriend, Paul, brought a gun to school. Emily is sure that Paul never meant to hurt her, though he did threaten her with the gun. She is also sure that he never planned to kill himself with it, though that is what he did. At her private school, she doesn’t quite fit in. She doesn’t wear the right shoes and her reluctance to talk about what happened and why she is there mid-term doesn’t lead others to get closer to her. Emily finds herself more and more interested in Emily Dickinson whose home is in Amherst. She starts writing poems herself, putting her grief and confusion on the page in poems that she plans to never share with anyone. But as the days go by, she becomes closer with her room mate and other girls on campus, including one of the teachers. It is now up to Emily to figure out how much she is willing to share of her own role in Paul’s death.
Hubbard’s writing is crystalline and brilliant. She captures the stunned nature of sudden loss with clarity and understanding. Emily could easily have become and inaccessible character to readers as well since she is prickly and shut down. Instead though, Hubbard creates a space around Emily for readers to understand her and feel her pain.
A large part of this is through her poems which honor Dickinson, follow her structure and voice closely at times, and other times reveal Emily’s soul in brief lines that shine. These poems serve as islands in a sea of pain and grief. They are concrete and dazzlingly good. They are bright with hope as one can see in each one Emily moving forward toward the future after putting her pain on the page.
Beautiful writing, a strong heroine, and plenty of poetry make this a very unique and exceptional book about loss and suicide. Appropriate for ages 14-16.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and NetGalley.