In The People Who Stay, Samantha Rideout gives us an in-depth and personal look at a question on many young people’s minds in these modern times: do I stay or do I go? Some people never want to leave their hometown and others can’t wait to get away. Is one better than the other? Like the question, this book has no simple answer. It is a book with a lot of character and a lot of questions, about trying to understand just where you came from, and where you might be going.
The book centres on Sylvia, a bright young woman from rural Newfoundland who has left the province for greener pastures. She grudgingly returns home to attend her cousin’s wedding and is pushed to unravel the past, the future, her lifelong friendships and the events that have shaped her. She brings along her husband, who doesn’t fit in and certainly isn’t one of the down-home guys. Can he be? Does that even matter once they leave Newfoundland again?
Sylvia has trouble relaxing at home and wrestles with some big questions she can’t get off her mind. She is at a crossroads of unhappiness in her life and perhaps being at home is just what she needs, but she can’t see that yet. What does it mean to be married to someone who doesn’t understand where you came from? Someone who can’t remember that funny joke from high school because he wasn’t there? Why did Sylvia want to get away from Newfoundland so badly?
While the Newfoundland setting and dialect are charming on the page, Rideout’s writing is a bit jumbled and many layers exist, leaving the reader with many unanswered questions. There are some deep questions that are very intriguing, wrestling with themes of what do you miss out on if you stay in a small town or how much do you gain if you leave? Do people remain stuck if they stay in one place, and what exactly does it mean to be happy? Rideout does not come up with a life altering, surprise message in this novel, yet it is an enjoyable story along the way. Sometimes you just might have to leave to come back.