Monday, January 9, 2012

Stay With Me

A teenage romance plays out in just over one hundred days, forever changing the lives of a boy and girl. Mack Morse is a sensitive, but explosive, high school dropout who has spent time behind bars. CeCe Vaccuccia spends her time studying for a gifted-and-talented exam which she hopes will get her into a better high school. They meet at a restaurant where she waits tables and he washes dishes. Awkward conversations lead to quiet walks home in the summer heat, and their relationship blossoms when Mack, who has a talent for animals, takes in a pitbull that even dog-fearing CeCe learns to love. The story is related by both characters in raw first-person narratives that have the beat of urban poetry. ("Tell you what, I'm so excited about being alive, I can't stop smiling, and doesn't the bodega lady just smile too? She's whistling, and I carry her tune with me, out the door, the cowbell jangling like a laugh. I'm lit up just like the sky. Lightning falls all across it, like God brushed a wirehaired jackal and pulled the dross from the comb and just tossed it down on us.") Believable coming from a fifteen-year-old kid who can barely read? Probably not, yet somehow it all works within the context of this stylized novel. Mack and Cece come from hardluck backgrounds (Mack's dad is a drunk, as is Cece's mom -- a memorably upbeat loser with gold-capped teeth and a big heart) and STAY WITH ME is realistically cruel in depicting the fate of this too-good-to-be-true first romance. Just when things are looking their best for the teens, the world comes crashing down and they are permanently separated. It's to the author's credit that, despite the incredibly downbeat final chapters, the novel somehow ends with a dim ray of hope for these two unforgettable characters -- not as a romantic couple, but as individuals.

PRINTZ-WORTHY? This novel's blend of light and dark, beauty and grit, hope and despair, mark it as something different -- and rather special. It will be interesting to see if the Printz committee accepts the stylized writing and heightened reality of this romance or rejects the book as overwritten and unbelievable.

What do YOU think?

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