Senior Paul Wagoner walks into his school with a stolen gun, he threatens his girlfriend, Emily Beam, and then takes his own life. Soon after, angry and guilt-ridden Emily is sent to a boarding school in Amherst, Massachusetts, where two quirky fellow students and the spirit of Emily Dickinson offer helping hands. But it is up to Emily Beam to heal her own damaged self, to find the good behind the bad, hope inside the despair, and springtime under the snow.
Trigger Warning: Deals with heavy themes like abortion, suicide, and hostel situations.
And We Stay is an emotional journey into recovery and forgiveness that reads like an eulogy and bleeds out poetry. It’s raw, poignant, and heart-wrenching. The poetry is astounding and in some ways channels Emily Dickinson herself.
- The poetry is timeless. It’s full of agony and inspiration, beauty and quiet tragedy, the death of the soul, reincarnation of self. Gripping, powerful, there are some that are simply written and thought-provoking and others that have so many components you could analyze and discover something new each time.
- Emily and Emily Dickinson are soul sisters. They parallel one another, in many ways they’re the same but diverge in leaps and bounds. There’s a particular scene that very well might have changed my life, as cliche as that sounds. When Emily sits in Emily Dickinson’s bedroom and stares at her desk. She evaluates her life, her choices, and what could have been different and she thinks about the fragility of life, the wounds we cause ourselves and those that come no matter what we do to save ourselves. This was my favorite:
- “So if she sits at a desk, scrawls words on paper, are the words as lonely as she, or do they sow seeds into a soul across time, across centuries? Was Emily Dickinson ever able to thread the words together in such a way that she was beyond the need for stitches?”
- And We Stay deals with important and tragic themes like school shootings, suicide, depression, and abortion. The poems are dynamite. They compile all the emotions of these incidents in precise, short poems. They make you think and feel more so than the scenes of the events themselves.
- I struggled with how to rate this book. In some ways, it was a five-star read, in others it was a solid three. The story, which is supplemented by the poetry, is moving but the way it’s presented lacked the emotional pull of the events themselves. The moments at Amherst were bland, dull, and forgettable. The secondary characters were average, expected, and didn’t hold your attention. They sort of flitted in and out like phantoms without substance. In some ways, the story would have been better had it only featured Emily and her kinship with Emily Dickinson.
- Emily doesn’t deal with her problems. Yes, she writes poetry and bleeds out into beautiful, hypnotizing words but it’s roundabout. The scenes with the shooting, at the abortion clinic, it’s like she numbed herself and brushed them off, as if to shrug and say, that’s the past no need to drudge it up. Her poetry says different. Emily is crying out, she wants to express her emotions but doesn’t have the courage yet. Through Emily Dickinson, Emily starts to accept that feeling, though painful, is a necessary evil, that it can be salvation.
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