BOOK REVIEW: Staying by Jessie Cole

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

As children, Jessie Cole and her brother Jake ran wild, free to roam their rainforest home as they pleased. They had each other, parents who adored them, and two mysterious, beautiful, clever half-sisters, Billie and Zoe, who came to visit every holidays. But when Jessie was on the cusp of adolescence, tragedy struck, and her happy, loving family fell apart. This beautifully written, heartbreaking memoir asks what happens to those who are left behind when someone takes their own life. It’s about the importance of home, family and forgiveness—and finding peace in a place where we’ve suffered pain.

My Thoughts:

Staying is a memoir of loss, grief, bewilderment at the heavy blows life can deal you and – ultimately – a story of healing and recovery. It’s hauntingly beautiful and heartrendingly sad.

Jessie Cole and her younger brother Jake were brought up by their free-thinking parents in a property in far-northern New South Wales. Their father was a psychiatrist, their mother a gentle hippy. They ran wild in the rainforest, swam in the river, read books, communed with nature. Every now and again, their father’s other daughters would come and stay. They were older, worldly-wise, and troubled. Jessie longed for their attention and their approval. She was too young to understand some of the tensions that existed in this extended family uneasily cobbled together.


When Jessie is twelve, one of her half-sisters commits suicide. There is no way to understand why.


‘I could feel my heart banging in my chest. Jumping up, face set, I ran. Into the unbroken green of our land, I ran. I could not cry – could not breathe – and finally, when I felt I might burst, I stopped and my breaths came in sucking gasps. My sister Zoe. Brown-bodied, light-eyed, splint-legged. Songs like swelling rivers. Eyes hard and cold.’


Zoe’s suicide fractures the family, in more ways than one. As Jessie grows up, it casts a terrible shadow over her life, and that of her parents and siblings. Her writing is unflinchingly honest and full of sensitivity and emotion, giving the most potent understanding of the cruel damage such a death can leave behind.


A profoundly moving book.

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Kate Forsyth
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