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.

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