Review of STAY WITH ME by GARRET FREYMANN-WEYR
Leila has an unusual family. Her father has two other daughters from a previous marriage, both much older than her. Though Leila wants their affection, she’s not convinced they see her as much as a sister as she does them. Leila also had a surprisingly close relationship with her father’s ex-wife, before she died. Unusual or not, this is Leila’s normal...until her half-sister Rebecca commits suicide. Then, due to complicated circumstances, Leila finds herself living with her other half-sister Claire while her parents leave the country. Leila calls all these changes her “new now,” because she knows nothing will ever be the same again.
I adored the voice of this novel. From an objective point of view, I suspect critics would say there’s far too much interior monologue, but it works. This is Leila’s story and her thoughts drive the story as much as her actions, especially when we’re treated to a shift in her outlook.
I also enjoyed reading about Leila’s struggle as an ambitious dyslexic teenager. Though hardly the focal point of the book, the story opens with Leila mentioning her dyslexia as she worries she’s probably not starting this tale at the right place. This shortcoming pops up throughout the novel and what struck me was how much others dismiss Leila as stupid because she struggles with reading. There are plenty of other ways to be smart. I present Leila as evidence, since she’s unusually - but believably - mature for her seventeen years.
Speaking of seventeen, my only real issue with this story is that Leila’s primary love interest is thirty-one. Before you write off this book at that, I will add that the author handles it impressively well. However, stop reading this paragraph right here if you don’t want to read any specifics about the plot that might count as spoilers. Due to height and maturity, people often mistake Leila for older than seventeen. When Eamon first meets her, he thinks her in her twenties and probably too young for him, but when he learns she’s actually seventeen he backs off immediately, telling her they shouldn’t be more than friends and really probably shouldn’t even be that. They do become friends, though, friends with a lingering romantic undertone. It’s obvious they both want more, but know the taboos of their age difference. I commend the author for also working in another important theme here: everyone will judge you and you need to do what’s right for you despite all those voices. Both Eamon and Leila recognize how odd their relationship looks to outsiders and that most people assume he’s the predatory older creep leering after a naïve and gullible young body. To the reader it’s clear that Leila is far more than a body to Eamon. He admires and respects her ways of thinking and wants to hear what she has to say. They both bristle at what people imply (and state explicitly) about them, but resign themselves to the fact that they don’t get to control what other people think and should focus more on whether they think there’s any truth to the comments or not.
I rarely re-read books, but I have the sense that STAY WITH ME would be well-worth reading again and again. Especially as someone who primarily loves stories about characters, I cherished this up-close portrayal of a dynamic young woman coping with her new now.