keep holding on

Wednesday, June 13, 2012 |
I have a bad habit.  And that bad habit is not talking about the books I read in between the YA and middle grade fantasy that I mention in reviews.  Oh, I’ll do it now and then – hey look, I reviewed a Sarah Dessen book…once!  And I really like Brendan Halpin and Julie Halpern, now that I think about it.  But usually I don’t write those reviews of contemporary YA.  And that means that you don’t hear about the Sarah Dessen and Susane Colasanti books that I gobble up as if they’re cotton candy.  Or the Georgette Heyer (historical!) or Betty Neels (charmingly innocent & old-fashioned!) romances, either.  But hey, today is all about the confessions.

It’s also about Susane Colasanti’s latest read, Keep Holding On, which I just finished.  And am reviewing.  Rightnow.

keep holding on by susane colasanti book cover
Noelle's life is all about survival. Even her best friend doesn't know how much she gets bullied, or the ways her mom neglects her. Noelle's kept so much about her life a secret for so long that when her longtime crush Julian Porter starts paying attention to her, she's terrified. Surely it's safer to stay hidden than to risk the pain of a broken heart. But when the antagonism of her classmates takes a dramatic turn, Noelle realizes it's time to stand up for herself—and for the love that keeps her holding on.

Noelle Wexler has been bullied for years, and she’s marking off the days until the end of high school.  Her home life is horrendous, her nemeses at school are making life hell, and all the while she’s having a tough time believing that there IS something better out there.  That she can be worthy, and move beyond, and even just keep holding on.  When events come to a head and a choice must be made, Noelle has to fight inertia and act – otherwise she might not survive.

Colasanti has written a book that faithfully replicates the voice and actions of a depressed, bullied young adult.  Noelle’s thoughts are honest and in cases self-harming, and the feelings they evoke are both horrible and true.  It is HARD to read these words – they are a physical weight and portray exhaustion with life, with trying to overcome, with making due.  It’s all scarily real.  And that is, by far, the triumph of the book – in making those heavy, hard things accessible and open to those who have never experienced them.

What are less-than-memorable elements, then?  The plot, Noelle’s fellow characters, the ending and the final character development.  Noelle’s story ends semi-happily and in a hopeful place, a transition that does not seem authentic in the short space of the book.  There’s a lot of happy-speak and positive self-talk that takes time to develop in real life, but which Noelle spouts off the cuff one day.  Noelle finds herself in a network of supportive friends – after being excluded and bullied for years.  It’s… wishful thinking.  Not dangerously optimistic, just unrealistic.

The unfortunate side effect of wrapping everything in a pretty bow after showcasing the very real horrors of bullying is that it makes the book less effective and less enjoyable than it had the potential to be.  Awesome bit: Noelle’s voice, especially in the first ¾ of the book.  Not as awesome?  The finale.  Although the reader is meant to feel hope and possibility at the end, there is instead a pervasive feeling of something along the lines of ‘deflated balloon.’  Weird mental picture, I know, but it fit (at least for me).

Recommended for: confirmed Susane Colasanti fans, devotees of Sarah Dessen, those who want to hear a genuine, hurting voice of a bullied teen, and anyone who likes their sad hearts completely mended upon conclusion of the story.

1 comment:

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Thanks for the review! I love books that deal with tough topics, and it sounds like this one does it well, for the most part. I'm not too fond of the endings you are talking about here though. "Issue" books are important, but you're right, it's not realistic to make things too okay at the end. That's a process. Silver lining, but not perfect.


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