Stay With Me by Paul Griffin

Stay With Me is the story of CeCe and Mack, two polar opposites brought together by their jobs at the same restaurant.  The way that Griffin brings them together is somewhat contrived, which put me off a bit right from the start.  Mack works at a restaurant owned by Vic, who loses the restaurant in an online poker game.  Fortunately, he owns a second restaurant, and he moves his employees from the restaurant he lost to the second location.  CeCe is a waitress at this second location.  So, Griffin has succeeded in getting CeCe and Mack to meet.  But he uses CeCe’s brother, Anthony, to shove them together forcefully.  Anthony, a star student and football player has decided to not go to college and instead enlist in the Army.  It is not until later in the book that you learn that this is another contrivance to get the plot to work.  Before he leaves for boot camp, Anthony tells Mack to take care of CeCe.  Romance ensues.

This is a classic case of the good girl falling for the guy who was all wrong.  CeCe is an excellent student and all-around good girl.  A small subplot to the story is her studying for the Talented and Gifted exam at her school, which could open up opportunities for her to attend a private school.  Mack is a junior high dropout with a pronounced learning disablilty and a problem controlling himself emotionally.  So it’s not surprising when Mack falls desperately in love with CeCe, but it is somewhat unbelievable that CeCe would succumb to such blind, total love as quickly as she does.  The chapters of the book conveniently provide a countdown of the 103 days of their relationship, only about 40 of which they actually spend together.

Underlying the whole story is Mack’s love of dogs and his gift for training them.  He has a soft spot for pit bulls, and has a habit of rescuing them out of dog fighting rings.  At the beginning of the book he has just saved a new pet project, and as his relationship with CeCe grows, he decides this new dog, named Boo, would be perfect for CeCe.  As it turns out, CeCe had been attacked by a dog as a girl and is actually deathly afraid of them.  But through the miracle of Mack’s gift, she overcomes her fear and is willing to accept Boo.  The night that Boo is to make the transition from Mack’s house to CeCe’s, an evil neighbor in Mack’s apartment building kills Boo.  The emotionally unstable Mack in turn kills the neighbor.  This is what makes it so that Mack cannot “stay”, as the jacket blurb puts it.

I would have thought the story would have been over when Mack goes to jail, but there is much more to it.  The little contrivances put into the first half of the story all neatly come together in the last half.  Anthony is injured in boot camp, and Mack ends up in a program in jail where inmates train dogs to be companions for wounded soldiers.  Hence the necessity for Anthony to throw his future away on the Army (as CeCe viewed it), and Mack’s gift for training dogs.

In the end, the whole thing wraps up pretty neatly and predictably.  Maybe I am getting too old for young adult books, because the extent of the emotions experienced by Mack and CeCe just seem over the top to me.  And the extent to which the parents are screwed up or just plain absent is somewhat disturbing to me.  I mean, with CeCe’s drunk and irresponsible mom, I would have expected that in real life CeCe would have been taken away from her.  And Mack’s equally drunk and abusive father should have been in jail, and Mack in a special home for emotionally troubled boys.  I guess I’m just sheltered in my “perfect” suburban upbringing, but it all just seems so unrealistic.

Anyway, if you like the subgenre of young adult books that involve challenging relationships, this book may be for you.  But as far as I’m concerned, it’s entirely too contrived, and I found it difficult to like or care about any of the characters.  Maybe I would have liked the book better if the characters had been more sympathetic than just plain pathetic.

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