After suffering through the wedding of her two best friends, Savannah Leone is struggling to pull herself up from a black hole. It’s not enough that she had to suffer the indignity of wearing pumpkin orange at the nuptials, after all; she had to also nurse a case of serious unrequited love for the groom. Van met Peter before he ever met Janie, her close friend since childhood, but there was no stopping the wheels of affection once Pete and Janie met.
Devastated and feeling as if she’s lost them both, Van slides away from her maid of honor duties and retreats to her Rochester home. An evening of overindulgence leads Van to a website where she searches for a new life mate. Lonely and still grieving for her mother, a kind housekeeper who died years before, Van decides that the best way to bring someone new into her life is to buy him.
But it’s not a mail-order groom service . . . it’s a dog site. And with a few drunken clicks and her credit card, Van is now the proud owner of a German shepherd. But Joe has about 60 pounds on the tiny pup she was expecting to bring home in a cardboard box . . . and that’s to say nothing of that fact that Joe seems to only obey commands in Slovak. Bewildered, Van takes Joe to the vet and meets Alex, a handsome doctor with a crooked smile and heart of gold. But it’s far from happily ever after as Joe makes Van’s life endlessly interesting . . . and things get far more complicated.
Oh, Allie Larkin. How I loved Stay. Nevermind that I’m a total dog lover who thinks her golden retriever has human qualities and really “gets” her. Or that I’m a sucker for love triangles and tales of first love, especially when they’re coupled with the struggles and triumphs of modern dating.
This is just a really great book.
Stay surprised me in the absolute best way possible. I’ll admit that I accepted a review copy based solely on that adorable pup on the cover (don’t judge) and expected a light romp filled with dog anecdotes. Though Joe is a central character in this novel, of course, he’s not the novel; this is definitely Van’s story. And Joe is one of many delightful, unexpected and warm characters in this heartfelt book.
I read about 80 pages of this one before realizing I was completely hooked, and then? This was a stay-up-until-you’re-done and grab-whenever-you-have-30-free-seconds read for me. I absolutely fell head over paws for Joe, sure, but who wouldn’t? The real hero here was Alex, who I thought just walked on water. His friendship with Louis, an 80-year-old charmer, just clinched it all for me. Louis himself was a warm, funny and charismatic character I just wanted to squeeze, and the affection between the two of them was awesome. Alex is a man’s man, yes, but he’s also a sweet soul who takes care of injured animals all day.
And their owners, too.
Van is just the sort of real character we all know and love. She’s strong in many ways but weak in others. Bereft of any true family after her beloved mother’s passing, she’s very lonely but unsure of how to change that. Her propensity for alcohol keeps her from making smart decisions, but time and experience shape her into a new woman. She realizes her limitations and is vulnerable, but she’s not afraid to go after what she wants.
Every time I thought Van would shirk confrontation or lay down like a doormat, she surprised me. Even when things were decidedly not working out the way she had planned, she was the perfect blend of tactful but firm. (Though I did love it when she lost her cool on Diane, Janie’s controlling mother. F-bombs everywhere. I dug it.) Van is the sort of character you root for and love, even when she’s screwing everything up. You know deep down that she’ll get her act together. And she does.
Who didn’t I like? Peter, actually. For all of Van’s devotion to her college best friend and object of complete desire, Peter seemed — for most of the book — like an oblivious jerk. But like nearly everyone in Stay, he’d redeemed himself by the close. All my ire melted away when he finally, finally came through for our girl Van.
Exploring grief, loss, friendship, the nature of family and love itself, Stay was a book I adored from start to finish. I’ve heard it described as a cross between Emily Giffin’s Something Borrowed and Claire Cook’s Must Love Dogs, and I would heartily second that nomination. A warm read for more than just the women’s fiction or dog lover — a spirited, unique debut that definitely caught my attention.
4.5 out of 5!