Hold Still might not seem like the world’s cheeriest title to read on the eve of a brand spanking New Year full of promise. At least, you won’t think so as soon as I tell you what it’s about. But before I do, let me promise that Hold Still is not a weigh-you-down, five-tissue-weepie book. It is sad, for sure, but it is more hopeful than depressing, and it proves Nina LaCour is a new writer to watch.
I’ll start off by saying that I had the chance to read this book over the summer, when I first saw the ARC at the bookstore. I didn’t. It was one of those pick-it-up, read the back, put-it-down ARC experiences. Books about teen suicide really turn me off. That must seem like the most obvious of statements, because it’s hard to imagine a person who would find the topic a draw. But obviously lots of teen readers want to read books about suicide, ’cause there are plenty of them out there. It’s not so much the sadness of the subject matter that makes me disinterested (I read lots of sad books – I can take it). It’s that I find many authors treat the topic in a completely predictable, and often really superficial way. Suicide is sad. Really, really sad. I don’t need a mediocre book to reveal this as news to me. So I judged Hold Still as another book “like that” and I didn’t look twice at it. Enter Little Willow, gushing about Hold Still. Now that’s something that gets my attention.
So I got Hold Still from the library last week and I promised myself I would read it before 2009 wrapped up. It was very good. It proved me wrong. It is not “that kind” of suicide book. It is an impressive study of one girl’s emotional journey though her first year living without her best friend, Ingrid, who committed suicide. Here’s the book trailer, which I think is a good match for the tone of the novel, though it doesn’t show very well that Caitlin (the friend left behind) is really the focus of LaCour’s novel:
The author succeeds in conveying Caitlin’s paralysis after her friend’s death, and explores what it’s like inside the head of someone who has been left behind through a suicide. Using entries from Ingrid’s journal throughout the book made this character a real presence in the narrative, and she came through as vividly as Caitlin, which will help readers to appreciate more deeply Caitlin’s loss and questions. I liked that the process of Caitlin reentering the world and needing to make connections with people really evolved in a convincing way. The novel doesn’t end with a feeling that everything is all better now, and that life goes on towards a rosy future. It’s not so simple. In Hold Still, Nina LaCour explores how a girl rebuilds her life when loss breaks everything apart, as she learns that letting go doesn’t mean forgetting forever, it’s just how life continues. This is a novel that will inspire discussion, and could be one part of an interesting trio for bookclubs if combined with Wintergirls (Laurie Halse Anderson) and 13 Reasons Why (Jay Asher).
Hold Still is published by Dutton.