Stay by Catherine Ryan Hyde could be a novel that is off putting and even depressing. The subject matter is heavy. Two young teenagers growing up in dysfunctional homes. One lady, unwilling to face life due to a mistake many years before. Oddly, I found the story uplifting and the characters heartwarming. I attribute my response to the wonderful writing and message of the author.
The setting is small town America at the height of the Vietnam War. In a small town, everyone knows everything about everyone else. Or at least they think they do. Furthermore, forgiveness can be difficult. Small town folks can out-do elephants with their memories.
Cast of Characters
Young Lucas Painter escapes the constant bickering of his parents and his deep concern about his older brother making it home from Vietnam by running through the woods. His running companions are two large dogs that live with their owner.
Zoe Dinsmore is the fiftyish owner of the dogs. Her abode is a small shack hidden in the woods without a real road connecting to town. She has never put the pain of an accident behind her. Lucas saves her just in time.
Connor Barnes is Lucas’ best friend. His parents don’t fight. They just don’t speak. Together, Lucas and Zoe save Connor.
Dialogue to Remember
Meaningless dialogue in either fiction or life is just that, meaningless. But I did not find hollow words in Stay. Instead, there were multiple passages of note. Paragraphs of dialogue to be outlined for an English literature class. Words to remember. One of my favorite passages involves a conversation between Connor and Lucas. At fourteen, Connor has figured out the key to living. Something many never achieve.
(Connor): “It’s like…..,” he began. Then he faded, and I thought I might never know. “Zoe almost died. Well, you know that. You know it better than anybody. I guess she felt like nobody needed her around. But I do. I need her around. But she didn’t know it yet because she hadn’t even met me. But she was just about to meet me. All those years thinking nobody needed her or wanted her around, and she was just about to meet me and she didn’t know it. You get what I’m driving at?”
(Lucas): “I’m not sure,” I said.
(Connor): “Well…now I’m starting to think…you don’t know what might be coming next. And it might even be something nice. Something good, even though everything before it wasn’t good at all. You see where I’m going with this?”
(Lucas): You’re saying you have to stick around to see what happens next.”
I watched his face light up, and I knew I had hit it.
(Connor): “I knew you’d get it,” he said.
(Excerpt from Stay, Page 201.)
Stay is Lasting
The novel Stay is the first work that I have read by Catherine Ryan Hyde. But, it is not the first time she has made an impact on my life. Hyde is also the author of Pay It Forward. I neither read the book nor saw the subsequent movie, but for the past twenty years have taken the concept to heart.
While the title Stay will not make the impact of Pay It Forward on our language and culture, the novel has “staying” power. This book belongs in the curriculum of literature classes. There is a depth and wisdom and good. The characters struggle and grow and find not only the meaning of life, but the importance of living that life. I highly recommend Stay. We all need a Zoe in our lives. Maybe, just maybe, you are that Zoe someone needs.