In 1979, five toddlers were found alone on a boat off the coast of Puerto Rico after a hurricane. There are no clues as to where they came from or who they are, so it is assumed they are Puerto Rican citizens, and each child is adopted by a different family. Over the years, despite the distance between them, they stayed connected, united by a bond unlike any other, always considering one another siblings. Now adults, Taina, Holly, Adrian, and Raymond have been asked by David, the fifth, to spend a week together at David’s girlfriend Julia’s beach house, as David’s brain cancer has become aggressive and he’s not sure how much time he has left. This reunion brings old tensions to the surface, and it inspires David to search for the truth of their origins.
Stay With Me is a complex novel that strives to do many things. It is a character-driven story, as each of the five siblings play their own part in their unconventional family. It is a story of the relationships between these five, and also of the relationships they have with their own families and loved ones. And it is the story of how these five toddlers came to be on a boat together, abandoned by adults. In many ways, Stay With Me succeeds in making all these aspects of the book come together. However, the novel is not perfect and there were a few aspects of the book I didn’t love.
I’ll start by revealing my favorite aspect of the entire novel: finding out how and why the five main characters came to be in that boat. This is not explained until very close to the end of the novel, and I have to admit that the suspense was killing me throughout much of the novel. No matter how engrossed I was in the story, I always had the thought at the back of my mind that I couldn’t wait to find out what happened that caused them to be on that boat in the first place. Perhaps I was a bit too distracted by this part of the novel, but admittedly it’s sort of the crux of the entire thing and the truth of why they were on the boat was an excellent resolution to my questions. That aspect of the book was absolutely perfect.
Another thing I enjoyed about Stay With Me was the relationships between the five siblings. They were all so different, and consequently each relationship was its own entity – David interacted with Holly in a different way than he interacted with Adrian, and so on. It was also interesting to see how they grew into five such different adults, despite staying close throughout all those years. As I’m a fan of family sagas, these five sort of reminded me of a shorter version of a chunky family drama-type novel, and I enjoyed that quite a bit. I could have explored their relationships with each other for many more pages.
I now have to explain the one major thing that detracted from my overall enjoyment of the book, and unfortunately it’s kind of a biggie: I didn’t connect to any of the individual characters. With this many main characters, I’d expected to fall in with at least a few of them, but it just did not happen that way. In fact, the character I felt the closest to when all was said and done was Julia (David’s girlfriend) who’s not even one of the five! Strange, yes? I thought it was, anyway. Had my connection with the main characters (at least one or two of them) been stronger, I can see how I might have loved the novel. As that wasn’t the case, I still enjoyed it but that’s about all.
Overall, Stay With Me is an incredibly creative novel that may be attempting too much. I loved the plot, the resolution of it all, and the relationships between the five main characters, but my lack of connection with any of the characters themselves left me wanting more. I would still recommend that lovers of contemporary adult fiction give this one a try, as I found it overall better than average. And I can definitely see myself trying more of Ms. Rodriguez Barron’s work!