2016 Reviews · Australian · young adult

Book Review: Stay With Me by Maureen McCarthy

stay with me

Book blurb:

Tess is in trouble. Stuck on a farm outside Byron Bay, cut off from family and friends, Tess knows she must find a way to escape her violent partner to save her life and the life of her child …

A chance meeting offers a way out – but can she ever trust again? Tess embarks on a desperate road trip back to the heart of her past. But what will be waiting for her at home? Will her family forgive her – and can she forgive them?

3.5 stars

Maureen McCarthy treads important ground in her novel aimed at young adults, exploring themes of domestic violence and mental illness in her latest novel, Stay With Me.

Stay With Me is the story of Tess, a young woman with a three year old daughter, who lives on an isolated farm on the outskirts of Byron Bay. Tess has no control of her life, with no sense of self sufficiency, as it was taken away by her abusive husband Jay and his watchful family. Tess longs to escape for the safety of her and her young daughter. When a kind stranger offers Tess a chance to risk it all and escape the clutches of Jay, she takes up his offer. Tess and her daughter ride with the stranger back to Tess’ family, whom she hasn’t seen for many years. However, the ride to safety is no walk in the park, as Tess finds it isn’t easy to escape undetected from Jay and his allies. She is then faced with the issue of trying to reconnect with her estranged family. Intertwined with Tess’ story is the history of her great grandmother, who acts as a guardian angel over Tess. Through the progression of the novel, it is revealed that Tess’s great grandmother underwent a life of much suffering at the hands of her husband and her suspected mental illness.

Stay With Me signals my introduction to the writing of Maureen McCarthy, who is an established Australian author in the field of young adult fiction. McCarthy takes on a tough but important subject matter – mental illness and domestic violence in her novel, Stay With Me. McCarthy handles these sensitive subjects with the treatment they deserve. Certainly McCarthy makes no attempt to water down the rawness of these aspects of our society. Through Tess’s story, I feel McCarthy is able to reach out and hopefully touch those who are or have been a victim of domestic abuse. She also highlights how domestic violence and mental illness can be seen as mutually exclusive of one another. What I appreciated about the novel was the examination of mental illness in the past, as through the retelling of Tess’ great grandmother’s story, the reader gets a picture of life for these sufferers in the past. My only quibble with the book lies in this very part, I just wanted more from this fascinating story and piece of history. McCarthy chooses to places this thread in the background, dipping in and out of the past story at various points in the story. Despite this, Tess’ story is strong and her journey to safety is fraught with moments of both sheer terror and relief. McCarthy also chooses to shape her narrative around Tess’s past and how she came to meet Jay, connecting it to her current escape situation and the thread involving her great grandmother. On the whole, this is a novel that has impact and will not leave my mind for some time.

Stay With Me is a multiple strand novel, that confronts the issue of abuse and mental illness head on. Stay With Me is an insightful novel, that is able to reach out to adults and young adults alike. I feel it is also an essential read for our current generation.

Stay With Me by Maureen McCarthy was published in 2015 by Allen and Unwin.

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