There is so much to love about this book: the cake metaphors, the interesting characters, the sad but hopeful mood. Leila’s favorite stepsister, struggling with bouts of depression her entire life, has finally made a successful suicide attempt, and 16-year old Leila is certain there has to be a reason for what her much older sister has done. Months later when her physician parents leave for Poland, Leila opts to stay with her remaining stepsister, the coolly elegant Clare, who assists with Leila’s attempt to decipher the mystery that was Rebecca’s life.
Leila begins to track down Rebecca’s favorite haunts, positive there are clues in the people she knew and the places she went. When she gets a job in the café where she last saw her sister, it’s not so much that she wants the job, but wants to be there when the man she saw her sister with walks in, to interrogate him. Only, she meets another interesting man there – 31-year old Eamon, who makes her senses hum as he gently flirts with her. Until he realizes she is way too young for him. And then, she decides she isn’t.
Leila’s complexity is what makes this book real: her attunement to her body, her dyslexia, her relationship with the “boyfriend she was mean to,” her interest in theatre and set design, the ghost of 9/11 hovering in the NYC setting. This is a superior coming of age story about life lessons and figuring out what great love is. “I think of the things I’ve learned by accident–” says Leila, “when to accept jewelry and what to order–and know I’m glad to be learning how to negotiate the where, the when, and the importance of sex.” Supporting characters are as interestingly drawn.
In spite of all the wonderful thing about Stay With Me, it’s going to be a book that puts censors on high alert: an adult develops a physical relationship with a seventeen year old that toes the edge. It’s tasteful, mature, carefully considered, and mirrors the real experience of some teens, but it will raise hackles. The book, which builds developmental assets though modeling planning & decision making, time spent constructively, and supportive family environments, should be able to stand on the unquestionably high quality of the writing.
This review was originally published on the Hip Librarian’s Book Blog February 20, 2006.