Monday, April 21, 2014

And We Stay, by Jenny Hubbard

Jenny Hubbard's And We Stay touches on an all-too familiar tragedy that occurs in America today: school shootings.  Over the past fifteen years, our schools, which used to be universally viewed as safe havens for students of all ages, have become seen as less and less sacred.  This is because of shootings such as Jonesboro Middle School's, Virginia Tech's, Northern Illinois University's, Sandy Hook's, and, of course, the one that truly opened the world's eyes to the danger, Columbine High School's.

Following these horrific events, everyone discusses guilt--the guilt of the perpetrator(s). What people rarely discuss is the guilt of those who are left behind: survivor's guilt.  Readers of And We Stay are let into one young girl's struggle with living a "normal" life as a survivor.
The novel focuses on seventeen-year-old Emily Beam, who has recently lost her boyfriend, Paul, to suicide. If his suicide wasn't traumatizing enough for everyone close to him, the location and circumstance in which he chose to take his life certainly added a tragic effect. In fact, Emily cannot even mouth the word "library" anymore. Since that day, the word that used to connote peace, quiet, and tranquility has been replaced in her vocabulary with "lieberry."

A devastated and confused Emily is enrolled in a Massachusetts boarding school shortly after the tragedy. There, she is taken under the wings of her extrovert roommate and an unlikely friend, who both do everything in their power (including something pretty darn illegal!) to help Emily open up about her struggles and secrets, including one that she has kept hidden from almost everyone. Except Paul.

Paul has gone to his grave with Emily's secret, but it still weighs heavily upon her. But she realizes that the words that are so difficult to express verbally are far easier to write on paper, where she can be honest, outright, and candid.  As her new school is in Amherst, the town which houses renowned poet Emily Dickinson's home, Emily has plenty of literary inspiration all around her.

Born over a century apart, Emily Beam and Emily Dickinson are kindred spirits. The novel illustrates the unique connections between the two Emilies, and Dickinson's role as Emily's muse. She finds solace in writing, her works acting as much needed therapy for a girl wildly confused by her purpose in life thus far. 

The novel is told through both prose and verse, with each chapter ending with a piece of writing that Emily has composed. Emily's entries allow the reader to connect with her feelings and understand and sympathize with her struggle through different types of tragedy.  

And We Stay is a wonderful book for adolescents and teachers to read alike. Everyone has experienced some sort of tragedy in his or her lifetime, some kind of loss. This novel helps readers to discover the rainbow after the storm of loss. It doesn't always appear right away, but eventually, it is visible to all. 

The content of And We Stay covers day to day activities of adolescents, some of whom are struggling with their identities. What adolescent has not experienced the confusion of his or her teenage years? Of friendships? Of a sense of belonging? Adolescent readers will certainly be able to identify with Hubbard's characters.

And We Stay would make a wonderful addition to a high school English curriculum. According to Jenny Hubbard's website, her novel is a Common Core book. In fact, her site provides an extensive guide for teaching the novel in a classroom. Click here to access the pdf file.

Please visit author Jenny Hubbard's website to read about her life and other novel, Paper Covers Rock

For information about survivor's guilt, please visit the following link (with video), which includes an individual's experience with survivor's guilt after the Aurora movie theater shooting: Survivor's Guilt

The poet Emily Dickinson is a prominent character in Hubbard's novel. Below is a video from author John Green's Crash Course Literature series covering Emily Dickinson and her poetry.


Vanessa Chairez said...

Hey Sarah!

Again with a great summary! You have me hooked on this novel. I have read a book on school shootings and it is sad to read. Also I feel that the character of Emily will draw in teens because they will be able to relate to her.

I like the guide you provided for the classroom! At first this book didn't seem right for the classroom but after looking at the guide I was wrong!

This book will be on my summer reading list!

Sarah Millen said...

Good to hear! You will enjoy it.