Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Book Review: Stay by Deb Caletti

Plot Summary (via the jacket cover): Clara's relationship with Christian is intense from the start, and like nothing she's ever experienced before. But what starts as devotion quickly becomes obsession, and it's almost too late before Clara realizes how far gone Christian is--and what he's willing to do to make her stay.

Review: Stay is the book that Deb Caletti has been working her whole life to write. Or, at least, that's how it felt to me.

I've read all of her books, and up until this point, I've liked them well enough. I really enjoyed The Nature of Jade. I liked The Secret Life of Prince Charming. I rather disliked The Fortunes of Indigo Skye. But really, one way or another, my appreciation of those books really depended on plot rather than the quality of the writing. And here, with her latest book, Stay, I feel like she has finally found her plot, which has served to elevate her writing as well.

I only annotate books when I'm using them for school projects. Yet, when I was reading this novel, I couldn't stop myself from grabbing my pencil. From the first page, I was underlining sentences, adding notes in the margins. The first chapter was so strong, I just had to highlight it. The development of the main character and the main conflict were so good, I just had to note it. The writing was so real, so smart, and so well crafted that I just had to remember it.

I wish I could share all the great quotes with you. But then I'd be typing up half the book and I'd be charged with plagiarism. Instead, I've selected a few that I think highlight different dimensions of Caletti's masterpiece:

"I moved away from her, followed the line of his eyes until I was standing next to him. I wish you knew me, because you'd appreciate what this meant. I would never just go walking up to some guy." (pg. 3)

Stay is written in first person, as most young adult novels are. What is more of note is that it is written with an awareness of its audience, or, at least, an audience of some kind. It is also written in past tense, as the character reflects on her experience. I don't think that these techniques would fit all stories, but I think it worked really well here. The nature of the plot, which revolves around an abusive relationship, fits really well with this type of storytelling. The lines I've quoted here are just example of how these tools aided the story. Because Clara was looking back on the event, she was able to put it in perspective, and really provide insight into how much this boy affected her. Because Clara is talking to her audience, as she does in the line in bold, she was able to make a personal connection with the reader. To me, that line sounds so incredibly real. If I were a character in a book, that's how I think I'd speak.

"He looked at me expectantly. I knew what I was supposed to was easy. But I could feel his need to hear it, his need for my reassurance, and that need made me feel...large, maybe. In a way I hadn't before." (pg. 21)

I have read few books about abusive relationships, but none like this one. Not only was Stay more engaging, more insightful, and more real, but it was also the only book I've read that focused on an emotionally abusive relationship rather than a physically abusive relationship. Here, with this quote, we are invited into the beginning of that relationship between Clara and Christian. This quote hits me so hard because it feels so real. I have never been anywhere near a situation or relationship like Christian and Clara's. Yet, with this one sentence, I completely understand why Clara stayed with Christian for so long. With those few words, I understand the spell. Because I understand what Clara is saying so perfectly. Christian makes her feel needed, important, and powerful. I can easily understand why she would become addicted to those feelings, even when all the horrible feelings started to take over. No one wants to shrink down to small and powerless once they've been large and almighty. With this line, and so many brilliant lines before and after this one, I connect with Clara, I understand the relationship between her and Christian, and I connect her feelings and her desires with my own. That is the effect of good writing, good storytelling, and a strong narrative voice.

"I started having these conversations with him in my head that you have when you first meet someone you know is going to be important in your life."(pg. 14)

Good novels are about character and plot. Great novels are about ideas. One of the things I love about Stay is that it presents interesting themes and ideas. It is filled with sentences like this, sentences that make me stop and think, not only about the novel itself, but about my life, and life in general. It makes me ask questions--how did Clara know Christian would be important? Have I ever known that about a person right when I met them? Could you know that? To me, these thoughts and these questions are the mark of a great novel. They are interesting ideas, little pieces of inspiration.

Individually, all of these elements were strong. Together, they made an amazing novel. Numerous times I had to grab my pencil to add the same note--"Deb Caletti is the type of author you read to learn how to write." I really can't think of a better recommendation.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Kind of Love

I devote a lot of time to romance, especially considering I have never experienced it myself. Last week, I wrote an email to my friend analyzing the Ron/Hermione kiss. I rewatched the Emmett/Daphne confrontation from the Switched at Birth finale at least ten times. I keep a blog where I review books, tv, and occasionally movies, where I basically just talk about the romance. I spend so long analyzing various romances that I thought I'd take a minute to turn the camera on myself, so to speak, and analyze the way I view romance, examining what kind of romantic I am.

Surprisingly, I don't buy into many of the cliched romantic constructs. I don't believe in soul mates. It's a nice idea, I guess, but it's rather silly. I mean, I like how Ephram describes it to Amy in Everwood, but I still don't agree with it. I think Monica and Chandler have it right--two people aren't destined to be together; they stay together because they are committed to each other, because they work for each other, because they love each other, not because of some cosmic fate. I think it's funny how things work out. I think there are people who are better suited for each other. But it's not fate. And really, I think the idea that love is intentional is much more romantic--you want to be with someone so much, that you're willing to work for it. 

I like to think of it more as exceptions. I first stumbled across this concept in this blog post and it really made sense to me. I find the idea of soul mates very constricting. I like to think that it's more that you're trying find your exceptions. Those people that you'll really love, that will really be part of your life forever--as family, friends, or romantic partners. Most people in the world will mean nothing to you. But you spend your life looking for the people who will. There's no limit. There's no fate. Chance plays into it. But so do choices. Don't waste your life looking for a perfect soul mate. Try to find someone you like, someone who gets you, someone special just to you. Make the intentional effort. Don't leave it up to fate. 

I also have a problem with the idea of love at first sight. It's terribly unrealistic, of course, but beyond that I find it terribly unromantic. One of my favourite constructs is friends who fall in love, because they really know each other. There are countless examples; I'll try to limit myself. I've already mentioned Monica and Chandler and Ron and Hermione and Emmett and Daphne. There's also Jason and Steph from How to Be Popular (Meg Cabot), Christopher and Em from the Airhead Series (Meg Cabot), Booth and Brennan from Bones. They already know everything about each other, and they still love this person. They love everything. But, at first sight, they don't know the person at all. Their love is based on assumptions and appearances. Neither of those things are romantic at all. 

In terms of romantic moments, I prefer intimacy over big gestures. I like small, personalized weddings where everything is unique to the bride and the groom. I like scenes where characters talk and kiss in a room, alone. I like engagements where they're just lying in bed one sunday morning and he wants the moment to last forever and he knows right then that he has to marry her.

Romance is a big part of my life. It is often a source of comfort for me--it makes me happy about the world, and it lifts me up when I'm feeling sad. I bookmark a countless number of romantic scenes--Casey/Cappie, Novalee/Forney, Kurt/Blaine, Chuck/Blair, Josh/Donna, Michael/Mia, Harry/Charlotte, Luke/Lorelai, Ben/Leslie. In all of that my favourite scene is from Everwood. It has my favourite line:

"I just want to be with you, next to you, wherever you are."

To me, that's what love is. Not soul mates or first glances. But when you really know someone and you really love them and all you want, all you need is to spend time with them. Not on some expensive vacation or something, but just hanging around the house, watching tv or reading. 

Moreover, this line contains one of my favourites phrases in the english language--"I want to be with you." People say it all the time, so we don't really think about what it means. But when you break it down, word for word, and you examine the different nouns, verbs and conjugations, it sounds like the most romantic thing ever. I just want to be with you--I just want to exist with you.

That is my kind of love. That is the kind of romantic I am. 

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Beginning of the End

It has officially begun. The months are gone, the weeks are numbered, and the days are quickly slipping away. The end is coming.

This end is a beginning, yes. New school. A whole new life, practically! But I think it's important to acknowledge that it's also the end of a lot of things. Like the day I had today.

I've been away with my family for a few weeks, so today was the first time in a long time that I got to see my friends. And it was weird. In a way, we have so much in common, yet in another way we have so much pulling us apart.

We are all at the same point in our lives, all weeks away from starting university. We all have lists and lists of things we need to pack and buy, places we have to go, and people we have to say goodbye to. In that way, we understand each other like no one else could. Our conversations flowed easily from discussions of marks to classes to orientation to roommates. We're all worried about the same things. There was a universal anxiety. I'm shy, but even my most outgoing friend is scared of all the change that's coming.

It was interesting to compare our feelings and concerns. My one friend, S, is going to school in Toronto. She has to deal with dorms, roommates, and a new school, but other than that her life will stay the same. She's still going to live in her hometown. She's still going to see her parents and her house and many of her friends. She plans on coming home on sunday nights or occasional drop-ins. Still, she's very nervous. She doesn't know what it will be like to live with a roommate. She fears orientation week. She doesn't like all this change.

My other friend, F, is going to school two hours away. She will have to deal with a new city, a new living situation, and new classes in subjects she has never taken before. She plans on coming up every weekend or every other weekend. She's very excited about school, and extremely enthusiastic about all the orientation stuff. She's generally a positive person, and this is no exception.

And then there's me. I'm moving nine hours away. New subjects, new dorm, new province, new language, new culture. I'm terrified. I'm trying very hard to be positive, but I'm not perfect. I get anxious about move in day. I get scared about meeting new people, going to new classes. I'm trying to be okay with all of this, but I'm not really. I'm just getting better at pretending. Somedays, I feel completely ready. But mostly, I just feel sad. Sad to leave home. Sad to leave my friends and my world. Sad that so much is ending.

It was so strange meeting today. We had so much to talk about, so many things to discuss about the future. But there were still many silences. Because while we have a lot to say about our individual futures, there's nothing left of us except our collective past. This is it. Usually, as I'm walking home, I analyze everything everyone said and did, evaluating the day. Today, when I started to do that, I just shook my head. It doesn't matter anymore.

Because our friendship is over. But our futures are just beginning.

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