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Someday My Printz Will Come
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Stay With Me

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!

About Sarah Couri

Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.


  1. I haven’t read this one, so my comment is a little off topic, albeit a topic you brought up. But why, o why, do books and movies make first sex so effortless and…well, sexy? It seems like such a disservice to young people (female and male)! I’ve never, never seen it depicted as awkward, or god forbid painful, or for the couple to fail and try again another day — which could be such a loving way to depict the journey together. Oy. Snort. Def a peeve of mine. Does anyone have a counter example, or do I have to set the record straight for teens in my next novel?!

  2. Mark Flowers says:

    I haven’t read this either, but I did read Griffin’s last book, THE ORANGE HOUSES, which was a BFYA Top Ten, which I found very underwelming, in a way that sounds very similar to how Sarah felt about STAY WITH ME. So, I think I’ll be avoiding this one.

    @ Elizabeth, I can’t quote you any specific examples right now (too early in the morning), but I feel certain that I’ve read YA novels in which sex is treated as awkward and/or painful. I’ll try to think of some examples.

  3. Sarah Flowers says:

    Life: An Exploded Diagram has a fairly awkward–and realistic–first sex scene.

  4. I agree with Sarah–I also feel that Jellicoe Road has a pretty realistic first sex scene.

  5. Sarah Couri says:

    It’s been ages since I’ve read it — since junior high, I think — but isn’t the first time sex in Forever not so satisfying to Katherine? (Katherine, right? And Michael?)

    Anyway, Elizabeth, I think there are examples of awkward first sex, but I don’t think that means you shouldn’t write it in your next novel. I’ve been looking for a place to link to this four minute TED talk for a while, and finally this seems like the most appropriate chance I’ll get:

  6. Karyn Silverman says:

    Did anyone ever read Anatomy of a Boyfriend? It was so real it actually triggered my inner prude.

    I wonder if the issue is that telling the truth about the messy unpleasant bits (especially in narratives about first times) is so complex that it would take away from the story, so instead writers gloss over it? Or does it feel intrusive to write these scenes in any detail, or x-rated? But if the details are skipped, that means most of the content gets skipped too. Hmm.

  7. I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t read any of these yet, although Jellicoe Road is on my kindle as we speak (recommended by so many people). I think what I’m advocating isn’t necessarily graphic descriptions, which you’re right, Karyn, would disrupt the narrative flow (if the sex isn’t the point of the plot), but allowing for the possibility of failure and goofiness and pain in whatever sex scene you do decide to set up. In other words: if you can gloss over the sex while making it seem perfect and fireworks-like, why can’t you also gloss over it in a way that’s more realistic for what the vast majority of young adults will experience their first time? Thanks for that TED talk, Sarah!

  8. Since you mentioned movies, I think I recall Juno doing a pretty good job of showing the first time as awkward.

  9. I read it and loved it, but I realize now I was reading it as a teen (and I am definitely not one). I got caught up in the drama and in Mack, but I think your review is right on. The most interesting and believable character is Cece’s mom, and her relationship with Cece is quite beautifully flawed.

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