This is a story that’s full of very difficult issues – issues that need to be handled with care and skill – but don’t, for a minute, let that put you off. In the hands of an experienced and outstanding young adult novelist like Bali Rai it doesn’t have to be one to shy away from. Stay A Little Longer takes on bereavement, bullying, grief and being an outsider in a bold way that confronts all these difficulties and comes out the other side full of hope.
Aman’s life has been torn apart by the death of her father and a year on from the tragedy she’s getting by because of her strong, supportive mother, Jeet, her best friend Lola and Lola’s grandma, Oliva, who is also her next door neighbour and as close and supportive to her as her own grandmother. But perhaps the most importantly, she has her dog, Milly.
But Aman’s plight doesn’t stop the local neighbourhood bullies from being idiots and when one day they pick on Milly while Aman is taking her for a walk, she is helped out by a new neighbour who introduces himself as Gurnam. He escorts her home and it’s immediately obvious that he’s a gentle, kind soul but also an oddly sad one.
Gradually Gurnam becomes friendly with Jeet and Olivia as well as the two girls but it’s also clear that Gurnam has his own problems – deep, difficult problems that seem to be slowly pulling him apart. Aman is desperate to help her new friend and she and Lola try a bit of matchmaking between Gurnam and Olivia – but they don’t really understand what’s going on in the lives of the adults and, we discover, there’s potential tragedy just around the corner.
Rumours start to circulate in the community about where Gurnam has come from and why, in his late fifties, he’s suddenly turned up on his own. When he’s attacked and beaten close to death, the truth comes out and Aman and Lola discover that things are never quite the way they may seem.
Bali Rai has written a touching and sensitive portrayal of loss and the way love can be found when it looks least likely. It’s also a tale of how important family is – even if sometimes they fall out or find it difficult to deal with the complexities life throws up. Ultimately there’s a positive message here that decent people can combat intolerance and ignorance by being open and caring.
The book has been guided by the publishers, Barrington Stoke for a reading age of 8+ but it’s a story that will appeal to teen readers (and some adults!) too.
(This review was first published on the Letterpress Project website)