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Reviews: (by author)
Freymann-Weyr, Garrett. Stay with Me. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006.
Leila has dyslexia. She spends the better part of her days just trying to figure things out because, in her words, she has an inability to gather information easily. It feels to her as if she could just put the pieces together life would all make sense. So when her big sister Rebecca commits suicide, Leila sets out to figure out her sister's motives. There has to be a reason and she must find it. But can all things be figured out? In Stay With Me we watch sixteen-year-old Leila Abranel transition into a young woman as she tries to make sense of this tragedy.
The story begins at Thanksgiving just after 9/11. The author does not delve deeply into 9/11's effects, but rather uses it as a backdrop. It is interesting aside to wonder if 9/11 could have been the catalyst that finally drove Rebecca to kill herself (she had struggled with depression for years.)
Leila is a beautifully crafted character. She has an inner strength and a big heart. But Leila, who narrates the story, tells us that it is not that she has a big heart, but that she is cautious to pass judgment on anyone too quickly for fear of being wrong.
She is innocent, but not childish. In fact, much like Phebe in Freymann-Weyr's previous novel, The Kings are Already Here, most of Leila's interactions are with adults. She has sophisticated, cultured parents who treat her like an adult, leading to a quiet maturity. With two sisters a decade and a half her senior from her father's first marriage, she longs to be a part of the bond the first family shares. How could she not feel left out; her sisters tease that she was her father's back-up plan. The tragedy has left her to deal with a lot of relationships alone, now that Rebecca is not by her side to give advice.
Even in her death Rebecca remains a strong character in the book. So her father can deal with his crushing grief, Leila moves in with her sister Clare, about whom she comments, "She doesn't know me well enough to dislike me." From a distant politeness a true sisterhood emerges.
To keep herself busy, Leila gets a job in the café where she last saw her sister alive. It is there she meets Eamon. What begins as an innocent crush on a thirty-year-old Eamon becomes Leila's first great love affair. Eamon, who thinks Leila is much older, doesn't back off when he learns the truth. The relationship that evolves is sweet.
The writing is crisp and full. Long sentences flow as seamless thoughts. The author uses simple detail to stop time and evoke emotion: "I know he loves my mother. You can hear it in the way he calls her name- letting the l roll slowly into the s of Elsa."
In Freymann-Weyr's novels you feel like you have been let into an exquisite world. Freymann-Weyr never underestimates teens nor dumbs them down. I feel the novel is better left for the more sophisticated reader. More cautious parents of young readers may have a problem with the older man who is Leila's boyfriend and lover. However, the author does a nice job of accurately portraying teenage emotions that go along with sex: "My body decided what my brain was incapable of sorting out."
In the end Leila gets her answer regarding Rebecca's suicide, but the answer is not as important as she thinks it will be. The answer doesn't make her world fit together like she hoped. But the quest for the answer brings her an ownership of the world she inhabits and profound relationships with the people in it. Leila is a character that will stay with me.
Shelley Moreno, December 2006