Review: Stay With Me

Stay With Me by Paul Griffin. Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin. 2011. Review from ARC.

The Plot: Cece and Mack are fifteen when fate — in the form of Cece’s older brother, Tony — brings them together. They have a hundred and two days, from meeting to falling in love to fate bringing it to an end.

Cece is book smart, and while times may be tough she is part of a tight, loving family unit: her mother and her older brother. Mack is a drop out who can barely read and write, his mother left and his father’s a drunk, but he is both street smart and sweet. Opposites that complement and respect each other, they fall in love and plan a future. Mack does something, an action with horrible, permanent, consequences, and both have to face a future different than the one they’d planned.

The Good: Stay With Me broke my heart. Their story is told by both Cece and Mack, and the reader shares their feelings and thoughts and point of view. At first, it is tender, with the first fumbling of love. Cece thinks Mack doesn’t like her, Mack thinks Cece is too good for him. Mack’s home life is pretty horrendous, he’s already been arrested a time or two, but Tony sees more to him than “thug” and so, too, does Cece. Mack has a gift for training dogs, pit bulls especially, and his relationships with the dogs is beautiful. It’s a gift, the way he can connect with and train the most broken dog, but it is also a gift in that the dog gives Mack what he doesn’t get from people: love. Or, at least, what Mack thinks he doesn’t get because the reader sees that while his parents have let him down, others — Tony, Cece, and Vic, the owner of the restaurant where they all work — do love him. Mack just has a hard time seeing it and accepting it.

Mack, like his father before him, has a temper. It’s gotten him in trouble in the past, and in Stay With Me it will nearly destroy him.

Stay With Me is a romance; it’s as story of two teens who find each other; it’s about teens and families who only know financial struggle. Tony and Cece’s mother is a waitress; Tony and Cece have limited options, despite their talents and brains. Mack’s options, compounded by abandonment and learning disabilities, are even less. Mack and Cece connecting, falling in love, trusting each other — I know, I know, I’m overusing the word “sweet.” But it is! Sweet, however, is  not what this book is about. Stay With Me is about how, when the worst thing you can imagine happens, you pick yourself up and go forward because that’s the only option you have. It’s about the bad things that happen to good people. It’s about the bad things people do. What broke my heart is not Cece and Mack’s love; it is not what Mack did; it is how these two are then left alone, to crumble and die inside and then try to figure out how to reinvent a future without betraying the connection they had.

Pit bulls. I know nothing about pit bulls, but how adorable is that dog on the cover! By the end of Stay With Me, all I thought I knew about pit bulls turned out to be wrong. There is more to them than meets the eye, more than the bad press they get. Mack trains these dogs — not just pit bulls. He rescues the ones that have been abandoned. What I love about the pit bulls is that on the one hand, it’s a matter of fact, important part of the story. Mack has a talent with training dogs, and that shows a different side of him and may be the way for him to create some type of future. Griffin’s biography includes that his jobs have included dog trainer, and the knowledge and skill and heart needed to train dogs is lovingly shown. The readers learns more about both dog training and pit bulls. On the other hand, metaphor! Abused dogs that need to be rescued and loved and trained; an abused boy. Who will rescue Mack, who will love him, who will help him to become a man?

One final thing: the kissing in the rain scene? Loved it.