At first glance, Stay appears to be modest in length, form, and story. But within the spare pages of this middle-grade novel in verse is a powerful narrative about a family in transition, and the young girl at its centre who needs to form something new and whole from what remains.
Via diary entries addressed to her twin brother Billy (who died in utero), 11-year-old Millie attempts to make sense of the “family squalls” that have sent her father first to the basement, then to his own apartment. Further turmoil arises after Millie helps rescue a starving dog and her desperate longing for a pet becomes an obsession. Living in two places is a stumbling block in her desire to get a dog – Dad’s building has a no-animals policy and Mom refuses to be responsible for the pet when Millie and her older sister, Tara, are at their father’s. The parents can’t even manage custody of the girls; Mom goes off on a weekend with her new love interest and Dad forgets it’s his weekend with his daughters.
Though Millie is convinced she will be saddled with a “companion named Baggage” for the rest of her life, events stemming from a chance encounter with a compassionate stranger (Irene Tootoosis, who adopted the dog Millie saved) and Millie’s father’s cancer diagnosis bring the family together in a new configuration.
Though the plot of Stay is relatively straightforward, Katherine Lawrence’s writing is not. Lawrence is an accomplished author with several books of poetry for adults to her name; here she pens a novel for young readers so profound and complex in its voice and subtle in its story that multiple readings are necessary to appreciate all the nuances. Lawrence gives Millie the freedom to obsess about a dog, talk to her dead brother (and play soccer against his headstone), read her mother’s private texts, and be a good friend, while still mourning her situation and looking to reconstruct her family. Stay might be a quick read, but it’s a book that should be savoured.