Stay With Me by Ayọ̀bámi Adébáyọ̀. August 22, 2017. A.A. Knopf.
Ilesa, Nigeria. Ever since they first met and fell in love at university, Yejide and Akin have agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage—after consulting fertility doctors and healers, and trying strange teas and unlikely cures—Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time—until her in-laws arrive on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant. Which, finally, she does—but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. The unforgettable story of a marriage as seen through the eyes of both husband and wife, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.
Why Stay With Me Matters
I’d love to teach Stay With Me in the right class setting: a small class focused on women writers or world literature. There is so much to discuss here from depictions of femininity across cultures to political upheavals in Nigeria. Because of some of the content and themes present in this text, I would feel most comfortable reading this book with high school seniors and would probably only add this as a full-class selection if I felt the class was comfortable with discussing mature and potentially awkward situations.
This novel may also be difficult for students because the plot is not particularly straightforward. I actually think this is a great way to challenge students’ reading skills because they have to pay attention to details and understand that characters may be unreliable merely because of the way they perceive the world through a limited perspective. I certainly feel that the rewards of reading this book far outweigh any initial discomfort as Adébáyọ̀’s writing is subtle and nuanced, and while the story is hyper-specific it also gets at universal longings such as our human desires to be loved, valued, and special.
Themes and Social Issues: Family, motherhood, sacrifice, deception, forgiveness, superstition, polygamy, infertility.
Literary Features: The structure of Stay With Me relies on dramatic irony in which readers know a lot more about Yejide and Akin’s relationship than they do. The book is also told through alternating perspectives, allowing readers to understand characters through both their own thoughts and the descriptions of others. Stay With Me is undoubtedly a tragedy, although there is a glimmer of hope towards the end. There are great discussions to be had about the decisions characters make and whether their lives are the product of choice or fate.
Pairs Well With: Woman Hollering Creek, Purple Hibiscus, Things Fall Apart, Educated, Little Fires Everywhere
Content Awareness: The text contains a couple brief, yet awkward sex scenes that are neither graphic nor gratuitous. This book does require a mature audience, however, as much of the plot revolves around questions of fertility, including discussions of impotence and a phantom pregnancy.
Grade Level Recommendation: 12th grade and older. Stay With Me would be ideal for a World Literature, Women in Literature, or African Literature course.