I went into this book expecting a romance akin to Alex and Brittany in Perfect Chemistry. Good girl/bad boy, starcrossed lovers, etc. I was wrong. While I love that book, Stay With Me completely blew me away. It surprised me in this most moving way possible. It is a story of first loves and growing up, dealing with the consequences of your actions and finding redemption in even your darkest moments. It's honestly one of the most touching novels I've read in a long time.
Mack broke my heart. His confidence has been beaten down so damn much. He's lived a hard life and it's rare that this kid has ever caught a break, even believed in himself or had reason to truly be happy. But he has an amazing heart. He might not be able to spell a word correctly or know where exactly Boston is, but if he was down to his last penny, he'd give it to you if you needed it. He has an incredible bond with dogs. No matter how broken a dog is, Mack Morse can fix him. And gosh, I adored Céce. She's funny and strong and loyal and insecure, but not in a annoying way - it's so sweet and she's such a relatable character.
Paul Griffin is a stunning writer. His prose, storytelling and ability to dig deep into the heart of a character is incredible. Céce and Mack are two of the most dynamic protagonists I've read. On paper, they couldn't be more different. But when Céce's brother, Anthony, pushes these two teens together, a beautiful seed of love is planted and it grows into something so breathtaking and pure. And we're swept up in this sweet romance between two unlikely teenagers. Until... everything changes. Mack does something terrible and what follows is a heartbreaking story of redemption. Céce and Mack shared something special and rare before a darkness came and ripped it apart. But there is always hope, always forgiveness. Things will never be the same as they once were, but life goes on and you have to learn to make the best of what's left behind in the wreckage.
I was sobbing like crazy when I finished reading this and it's still playing on my mind days after. It's tragic and uplifting and so remarkably genuine. These characters touched me in a way I wasn't prepared for. I laughed out loud at some of the interactions between characters or else their quirks, like Céce's endearing belief in her ESP They are so lovable and honest and flawed - every single one wormed their way into my heart. Mack and Céce the most, but the secondary ones just as much. From Carmella and her holiday themed cornbread that nobody actually likes, Tony's ever insistent belief in the human spirit, Vic's 'all-knowing' and Boo. Oh god. Boo. I want that creampuff of a dog.
Stay With Me is raw, it's beautiful, it's gritty. It's not a fairytale, it's a honest depiction of something that could easily happen in life and Paul Griffin has captured it's essence with true heart. These are the kind of books that set a whole new bar for contemporary fiction. It will move you and force you to see the world in a whole new light. People do bad things, but does it always mean they're bad people?
Please do not let this one pass you by, you'd truly be missing out on a rare gem of a book!