In 1979, in the wake of Hurricane David, five toddlers were found in an abandoned boat tied to a dock in Puerto Rico. No one knew where they came from or who put them there, but they were well-dressed and well-fed—someone had loved them. Called the “starfish children” because of the starfish inked on their hands, they were adopted by different families, reunited as adults and now consider themselves brothers and sisters. Then one of the five, David, comes down with a brain tumor that brings flashes of what he believes are real memories of his life before the hurricane. His siblings rally around him, but not without anxiety: David wants to get to the bottom of who they are and where they came from once and for all before he dies. Some of his siblings do not.

Aside from his family, David has a sometime girlfriend, Julia Griswold. The Griswolds have roots that go back centuries: Every Griswold knows exactly where he or she came from and, sometimes, where they’re going. This is one of the reasons David and the other “starfish children” are so intrigued by her. Much of Sandra Rodriguez Barron's novel, Stay with Me, takes place in the beloved old island home that is the Griswolds’ family seat.

One of the novel’s pleasures is Barron's empathy for her characters; you feel you know these people and would like to spend time with them, tetchy though some of them are. David, who narrates some of the chapters, is by turns brave, peevish and romantic. Adrian is a passionate and talented musician. Holly, the only one with kids, is maternal and kindhearted. Raymond, overweight and a recovering alcoholic, is nurturing as well. Taina seems to be the most damaged, and her pain causes her to do things that come within shouting distance of being unforgivable. Julia is loving, steadfast and welcomes the family into her home, though not without cost. She’s also torn between the duty she feels toward her ex-boyfriend and her attraction to the charismatic Adrian.

Full of intrigue and romance, Stay With Me is a deeply moving paean to loyalty, compassion and family—biological or not. 

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