Stay With Me got, by my count, four starred reviews, and I’m sure it will be (well, is already, since it’s out!) a hit with teen readers, too. I think it earned those stars, and I believe it will circulate well and be well-loved by lots and lots of teens.
It’s a Way 3 read for me (though I’ll admit, I’m not totally wild about it personally, it’s more that I cannot wait to hand it off to teens and would love to hear their thoughts). This is a book that doesn’t quite stand up to the close scrutiny of Printz-magnifying glasses, I think.
Mack and Cece are our star-crossed (yes, this is a Romeo and Juliet type story) lovers. They both live in dire, sometimes desperate, circumstances in a big city (it all feels fairly NYCish, but the city is very carefully not named). Cece is a diligent student; Mack is a high school dropout. Cece takes care of her alcoholic mother; Mack avoids his abusive, alcoholic father. Until they get together, Cece dreams of acing the Gifted and Talented test that will get her into a kick ass high school, and Mack rescues and rehabilitates fighting dogs. It’s love at first sight between the two, except that something goes terribly, tragically wrong.
What is right about this, what I think is the best part: Mack’s voice. Griffin has created a memorable, heart breaking character and Mack’s sensitivity and uncertainty and creativity all ring true in his chapters (the novel alternates between Cece’s and Mack’s voices). When Mack describes what’s going on with his dog rescues, his character’s passion and enthusiasm comes through. He thinks things like, “The sky is a mist with the stars trying to poke through, like a razor rash on God’s gray face.” Swoon, went the teenage girl inside of me.
Mack’s voice is so strong and so personal, that it took me a while to realize that things weren’t quite adding up for me. However, I am not sure that the rest of the novel quite lives up to his half.
Cece’s portions are solid but she’s never quite as memorable as Mack. Maybe it’s because she’s meant to be more intellectual, maybe it’s because she’s less alone and lonely and doomed, but her half doesn’t feel as personal as Mack’s half. On the whole, Cece just doesn’t grow as much as Mack. She gets over him, she learns that she’s tough, but it’s just so outside, so impersonal. Mack’s journey is all raw feelings and heart and hers…is about getting over a boy.
(And, this is probably quite personal and rather nitpicky, but, well, I just don’t believe that her first time having sex is quite so splendorific and full of fireworks. While Griffin did an amazing job of describing the feelings of first love, Cece’s first sex was a little hard for me to believe.)
The supporting characters are mostly sympathetic but they pretty much all serve a single purpose which is to talk to Mack and Cece about, well, Mack and Cece. I’d have loved to read a little more dialogue from Marcy and Cece, for example, that wasn’t about Mack. And Tony might have been a little more believable if he had time to be a little less perfect (star quarterback? Super popular? Scholarships? Army hero?). Vic’s presence is very comforting, and his understanding and empathy for his chosen family is touching, but that’s really the only side of him we see.
Cece’s relationship with her mother is really the second most fleshed out relationship in the book (and, after I’m done reading, it’s the most interesting to me to think about). Carmella is such a flawed but loveable mother; the way they take care of each other (with, yes, Cece doing the lion’s share of taking care) as best they can is touching.
I’m trying to keep this short (under 1000 words, yo!), so let me summarize. Four starred reviews — yes, this novel totally earns them for the emotional punch Griffin packs and for Mack’s heartbreaking voice. A fantastic read for teens, one I can’t wait to get back to work and start recommending and booktalking — yes. A deserving nomination for BFYA — yes. But I don’t see this one walking away with a gold or silver sticker. I’m curious to hear what you guys have to say, though; comments are open!