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Tame Dogs and Wild Youth
The bold strokes of today’s young-adult lit
Stay With Me - Cover

Imagine star-crossed lovers of old would blush and faint before indulging in the kind of libidinal excess that courses through young-adult novels these days. But Paul Griffin knows better than all that. An award-winning novelist who also trains dogs and works with incarcerated young people, Griffin has penned a highly praised new book, Stay with Me, that celebrates the drama, heartbreak and fragile sensuality of today’s accelerated teenage life.

Stay with Me recounts the tragic fate of a sweet rescued fighting dog named Boo and her unlikely caretakers, two 15-year-old lovers hamstrung by burdensome disadvantages. Mack Morse, an abandoned, then abused high-school dropout, has a rap sheet and a special knack with dogs. He also struggles with violent thoughts that manifest as a hissing in his head, “like when you roll the radio to static and dial up the volume.”

The only remedy? You guessed it his coworker —bright, comely and selfdeprecating Céce Vaccuccia, who studies assiduously and parents her own mother, Carmella, whom she describes with characteristic teenage sarcasm as a “never-married, twice-knocked-up and ditched alcoholic with crippling bunions.”

While each of these facts may be true about Carmella, and the judgment behind them heartfelt, there’s no doubt that Céce loves her mother. This is much the same for all of Griffin’s characters. We are drawn into the oppressive grind of their lives; their words are sharp and their fates are grim, but their essential moral fiber withstands the wear and tear of their preventable, regrettable mistakes. These are, despite their deplorable decisions and even heinous acts, good people.

Mack compels Céce — scarred by a dog attack during childhood — to befriend his dog, Boo. “You’ve got to go a long way into evil to turn a Pit against people,” says Mack. “They forgive easy as rain falls.” And so, in turn, does Céce. The magic of love’s force transports the couple to a new and terribly temporary happiness. But when Boo suffers brutal violence yet again, Céce is nowhere to be found and Mack acts on an aggressive impulse, destroying any prospects for their future together.

While Mack’s character develops and deepens as a result of his poor choices, Céce’s prospects wither following his withdrawal. But her world is open now to the solace of a loyal dog, something she would never have had without learning to trust Boo, and the heedless abandon she experienced with Mack.

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This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 69: Mar/Apr/May 2012
Elizabeth Kennedy is a freelance writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area. elizabethkennedy.org