"I head downhill and cut along the highway, and of course they're at it again. The dog fighters. At the end of the alley. They got it going on in the back of a van with the seats ripped out. I see through the back doors left open. Men drinking forties and throwing cash and jawing into their phones. And the dogs.
"It's not loud at all. Pits don't bark much. They duck and twist like Galveston lightning till they clamp on at each other's throat. They try to roll each other, but neither dog goes over. They sway. Imagine slow dancing with a bear trap locked on to you. The men kick the dogs and stick them to make them madder. The dogs stay frozen like that, bound by their teeth.
"I'm running at that van, tell you what, let them pop me. I reach into my pocket like I'm heavy with a pistol. My other hand is up like it's badged. 'Yo, freeze.'
"The van jerks out of its idle and squeals away. They kick the loser dog out the back doors as they go. She's gasping in a puddle of old rain and mosquitoes and grease runoff from a leak in the Dumpster.
"I stroke the dog's muzzle. Her tongue hangs long in fast panting. Her head is heavy in my arms. Her front left leg is cut. Pouch under her jaw too. Her eyes are rolled back. If she dies, I'll bury her in the park where nobody can mess with her. Up in the hills, where if you slit your eye it's like you aren't even in the city.
"I don't understand violence. I don't understand why it got to be. And why does it have to be in me? I get so mad sometimes I could cut the world at the neck. A baby in a tenement cries out and cries on."
STAY WITH ME is the punch-in-the-gut story of a boy, a girl, a pit bull, and 102 days. It also includes the girl's big brother, a couple of alcoholic parents, and a pizza parlor impresario named Vic.
Fifteen year-old Macario (Mack) Morse is living in the basement of an apartment building with his father who is one of the alcoholic parents. Mack's mother had a gift for working with dogs of all kinds, and before she escaped her abusive husband and changed her name, she shared all that she knew about dogs with her young son.
Mack is a kid with both a heart of gold and a deep, dark pit of anger inside of him. He has learning disabilities and was bullied at school until he went to jail for slicing one of the kids who'd taken part in stuffing Mack in a garbage can and rolling him down the school steps. Now, instead of school, he's walking dogs in the morning, working at Vic's pizza parlor the rest of the day, and trying to contain all that anger. But he's off-the-charts amazing with dogs and he's been squirreling money away from his father in hope of going to school for dog training and becoming a professional trainer. When Vic transfers Mack and Anthony to his second pizza parlor, Mack meets Anthony's fifteen year-old sister, part-time employee Cece Vaccuccia.
Cece's an A student who is determined to escape the fate of her alcoholic mother. She is hoping to nail a gifted and talented test that will permit her to transfer to a better high school which, in turn, will hopefully lead to a good college. She fears dogs, having been bitten by a pit bull back when she was a little girl, but Mack teaches her about being around dogs and she falls in love with the boy and with that pit that the dog fighters threw from the van... the one that Mack is healing and training.
A boy, a girl, and a dog. How can everything go so horribly wrong?
This one had me laughing out loud and crying. It makes three in a row for New York YA author Paul Griffin, who has an extraordinary talent for character development. This talent served him well with his last novel, THE ORANGE HOUSES, which was named a YALSA Best Books for Young Adults Top Ten selection, and a selection of the Amelia Bloomer Project -- which shows that the guy can create some exceptional three-dimensional female characters.
But what has kept me thinking all day and all night about STAY FOR ME are the three complex guy characters we come to know: Mack, Anthony, and Vic. Each of these characters displays real heroism and selflessness and yet each, in his own way, is so damaged.