American contemporary, Personal Faves, YA

Seaside Healing: Stay

Don't be fooled by this generic YA cover. The writing is anything BUT generic!

A new Deb Caletti novel is reason to rejoice. Her heroines are flawed but smart. Somehow she manages to write for “every girl” without falling into the “every girl” stereotype*. Caletti always seems to get the blend of contemplation, flashback, romance and tension just right, and Stay is no exception. If you have not read a Caletti novel yet (shame on you), this would be a good one to start with.

Clara and her loving father, a successful novelist, are spending the summer in a little cottage on the Pacific seaboard. It seems like the ideal summer getaway, if only they weren’t there out of necessity. Clara and her father are in hiding from Clara’s obsessive ex-boyfriend, Christian. All Clara wants to do is enjoy the ocean, her new job working at an honest-to-goodness lighthouse, and allow herself to fall in love with the cute curly-haired sailor, Finn. But the ghosts of her relationship keep haunting her, and Clara knows she can’t stay hidden away forever.

I love a good sea-side setting. Give me white-washed cottages, sea grass, stormy weather, and small-town fish and chips, and I’m a happy girl. I like reading about cottage life almost as much as I enjoy living it. Caletti’s setting is bang-on, down to the wry but friendly locals, red and white checked paper lining the baskets of fries, and the smell of salt that seems to permeate the whole novel. Similarly, I love well-written food scenes. Stay made me hungry for everything from thick-cut chip-wagon fries to fresh ginger tea to hearty Italian food. What I am trying to say is that Caletti  is a master at creating a sense of place. You will want to visit this place and then eat there.

This is an important book about relationships. Clara is a strong, independent girl who gets caught up in a bad relationship. It would be easy to  make her fragile or needy or one of those people who lives to “save” others, but the truth is that strong girls fall into bad relationships, too. Clara and Christian’s relationship has shining moments, but Caletti does an excellent job demonstrating how passion can turn obsessive and how people become victimized. Part of Clara’s turmoil is that she is still worried about Christian. If she could just write him off as a psychopath and move on life would be so much easier. But when is life easy?

Clara’s father has demons of his own that come out, involving his dead wife (and Clara’s mother), a fabulously intimidating yet warm poet and colleague of his (who I imagined played by an older Annette Benning), and a beautiful, tempestuous Italian woman who also happens to be Clara’s boss. Caletti’s book is about Clara, but she is careful to weave in examples of other relationships and other forms of suffering to create a well-rounded discussion about the nature of love. This is just one of the many, many reasons why Stay is one of my 2011 must reads and has found a permanent position on my own bookshelf of favourites.

Stay is available in hard cover from Simon Pulse in April.

*I know what you’re thinking. You’re looking at that cover, thinking “I’ve read this before. Haven’t I read this before?” All of Caletti’s novels (in fact many YA books branded chick lit) have the same cover treatment: Slim, white girl with non-descript hair (usually brown) in pastel colours posing with an evocative prop or set piece- swing, flowers, bike- here it’s the ocean. We never see her face full on, and the covers are usually done up in white or pastel colours. If it was a dark cover (navy, black, purple) then you know you’re reading something supernatural. Or maybe post-apocalytpic. It’s the Pavlovian YA Cover Principle.

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