Monday, 16 June 2014

And We Stay

And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
Published by Delacorte Press
28th January 2014
Hardback Edition



When high school senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school library with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend Emily Beam, then takes his own life. In the wake of the tragedy, an angry and guilt-ridden Emily is shipped off to boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where she encounters a ghostly presence who shares her name. The spirit of Emily Dickinson and two quirky girls offer helping hands, but it is up to Emily to heal her own damaged self.

This inventive story, told in verse and in prose, paints the aftermath of tragedy as a landscape where there is good behind the bad, hope inside the despair, and springtime under the snow.

There are rumors the day Emily Beam arrives at the Amherst School for Girls - in January, halfway through her junior year.  She doesn't look like the other girls, who look like girls in magazines.  She doesn't sound like them, either, and she wears different shoes.  As she sits on a bed she's never slept in, in the first room she's ever shared, Emily announces to the tall, curly-haired blonde standing by the window that she's come from Boston.  This isn't a lie.  It is where she's stayed for the past month.
     K.T. nods and looks down at Emily's feet. "What shoe size do you wear?"
     "Seven," Emily says.
     K.T. walks over to her closed and digs out a pair of navy-blue clogs with wooden heels.
     "Here," says K.T. "Wear these."
     Emily takes off her rubber-soled Mary Janes.
     "They'll be a size too big," K.T. says, "which will make it tough to walk on those little pebbles out there, but at least no one will talk shit about you."
     As Emily slips on the clogs, K.T. takes the black Mary Janes and drops them - clunk, clunk - into the steel trash can.
     "You can wear your pj's to class if you want," K.T. says. "A lot of us do."
     Emily takes in her roommate's casual elegance: the untucked white button-down, the people cashmere cardigan, the necklace of turquoise beads, the brown suede boots with scuffed toes. Emily looks down at her new giant feet. "I have to go to the bathroom," she says.
     "Do you remember where it is?! K.T. points. "Just at the end of the hall."
     In the bathroom, Emily sweeps her long hair up into a messy ponytail, which is the style here, she's noticed.  In the morning - her first day of class - she'll wear the Harvard sweatshirt she got in Boston.  As far as boarding schools go, Emily has no idea how Amherst School for Girls ("ASG," K.T. calls it - like ask but with a g) compares.  Boarding school?  It wasn't even in the realm of possibilities; it wasn't even on the radar screen.  And by the time Aunt Cindy convinced Emily's parents that it was necessary, ASG was the only school that would take her, and that was only because there was an extra bed since K.T.'s prior roommate, Hannah, had been expelled for sneaking out late at night to meet townies.


I really enjoyed this novel by Jenny Hubbard, set in Massachusetts, America, primarily at Amherst School for Girls.  Emily Beam has started the new term there following the tragic death of her former boyfriend Paul.  It has been decided by her family that she is better off starting a new life for herself, rather than returning to her previous school where Paul killed himself in the school library.

At Amherst, Emily stands out.  She neither looks, dresses or speaks like any of the other girls and can often be found writing frantically in her room rather than talking of her past to any of her new school friends.  Will they discover who the real Emily Beam is, and why she has had to move so far away from home?

Luckily for Emily, a previous pupil with an interest in poetry is her saviour both in and out of school.  Emily Dickinson was born and raised in Amherst and thanks to the school's French teacher, who sees something of the poet in Emily herself, the spirit of Emily Dickinson captures and moves Emily to write more and more poetry to express how she feels.

The story weaves both back and forth, telling of Emily's life in the here-and-now at Amherst, but also of her previous life, and of her relationship with Paul and what led up to his suicide.  Jenny Hubbard tackles some very relevant themes in this story of love and heart-break and mixes it in with some beautiful poetry too. 


Happy Reading


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