As a sophomore in college, I went on a backpacking trip with three friends to North Carolina. It was a bone-headed decision from the start. Only one of us had ever backpacked. And no one thought to check the weather. After two days and nights of freezing rain, huddled in our tent eating peanut butter and crackers and drinking warm Budweisers, we decided to go to Florida. It was a long drive. Tired, we stopped in Sarasota at a friend-of-a-friend’s house. That night, with limited sleeping options, my friend Quiggs and I were invited to sleep next door. Not long after spreading our sleeping bags on the living room floor, in front of a floor-to-ceiling window, we were surrounded by three men who had other ideas. We dove out the window to safety. Returning to our friends, Quiggs and I, shaken, told the story. Later, we laughed about it. I’m not sure the four of us ever talked about it again.
But it stayed with me. As I grew older, I replayed the night in my mind and began to agonize over all that could have happened. What if we hadn’t gotten out the window? What if we’d been attacked? Years later, I knew I wanted to write about it but wasn’t sure what to say. That something bad almost happened? Growing up, I often talked with writing teachers who told me, “write about what you know.” But truth is, most of our lives are routine, even boring, with flashes of unique experiences and “what ifs.” It takes much more than recreating what you know to make an interesting and compelling story.
And so, I took liberties with the truth, as writers do, and began I’LL STAY. I complicated the relationships between the friends. I made the house more foreboding, the men more threatening. And I decided that one of the girls, Lee, would stay behind and suffer a brutal attack. Afterward, reunited, the girls would decide not to take Lee to the police or hospital. They would vow to put the night “behind them.” The attack, of course, added drama to the story. But my decision to have the girls “move on,” versus telling someone, has haunted me especially considering the recent #metoo movement and sexual harassment allegations. For God’s sake, why didn’t I have the girls fight back?
Because I wrote about what I knew. Like my characters, my friends and I were in our twenties in the 1980s. We tended to blame or question ourselves when we were harassed (and even assaulted). We felt shame. We wondered if we’d be believed. Any abuse we suffered was somehow normal.
Writing I’LL STAY, I often thought of it as a cautionary tale – what could go wrong when you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time. But recently, I’ve come to think of it as something different: a testament to how and why it was so easy to stay silent after something terrible has happened.
In this compelling, emotionally complex novel, a college friendship sparks a life-changing sacrifice that connects two women forever–even as it shatters their closeness . . .
“Let her go. I’ll stay.”
There are some decisions you can never unmake. You can only atone for them—or try to. During her senior year of college, Clare Michaels takes a spring break trip to Florida with three other girls, including her best friend, Lee. She’s hoping for adventure and a few stories to share back at school. Instead, a string of bad choices leads to a horrific encounter, and Lee offers herself up so that Clare can escape.
In the weeks and months that follow that fateful incident, Lee, once so dynamic and ambitious, flounders and withdraws. Clare was the only person to whom she’d ever confided about her troubled past. For Clare, that role felt like an honor—until it became a burden. Now she’s trying to make amends for her momentary selfishness by taking care of Lee—just as she’s been taking care of her high-strung mother, whose bestselling novel has been both windfall and curse. Years pass, circumstances change, and contact between Clare and Lee ebbs and flows, but the events of that night in Florida are impossible to escape. They keep dragging Clare back—forcing her to confront what really happened, and her part in it, in hopes of untangling guilt from loyalty and earning forgiveness at last . . .
“I’ll Stay is a heart-pounding, addictive portrait of how one split-second choice can twist our whole lives—and how the patterns of our lives lead us to those choices. A smart, compassionate, psychological spellbinder of a book—with one of the scariest scenes you’ll read anywhere that’ll stay with you forever!” –Jenna Blum, New York Times bestselling author of Those Who Save Us and The Stormchasers