Author: Susane Colasanti
Genre: Young Adult Contemporary
Release date: May 31, 2012
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
Links: Goodreads | Amazon | Bookdepository
Read from May 27, 2012
Summary: 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.
I read the first of Susane Colasanti's book, When It Happens, in 2008, and I loved that book. That was the first one and I've never read any more of her books after that, but When It Happens gave me the impression that she must be quite a good writer. (Although later on when I tried to re-read the book in 2010, I got so annoyed I just gave up, and I couldn't recall why I loved it in the first place, even though I really did love it in 2008.) Keep Holding On is the second book by this very same author that I've read. I was really excited when my request got approved, hoping I would like it like I did the first novel. But readers, I regret to say that this book didn't impress me.
Keep Holding On is about Noelle Wexler, a sixteen-year-old ninth grader, who lives a difficult life. Noelle and her mother lives in a rich area, but they're poor. There's rarely anything to eat at home, which results in only scraps of food she brings to school for lunch. She has clothes just enough to wear to school every day, and nothing more. Bullies enjoy bullying her. No one sits with her at lunch. Her one and only best friend isn't always around. Her boyfriend keeps her as his dirty little secret. Her mother neglects her. She's disgusted with her life. The environment around her and the treatment she receives make her believe that she's no good for anyone. And when Julian Porter, her other love interest, shows that he likes her, she pushes him away because she believes that once he gets to know her and her messed up world better, he'll stop liking her and leave anyway. Every day Noelle fights to keep holding on, looking forward to that one day when she leaves this town and can really be who she wants to be. But until then, she has to survive high school first.
My first reaction was to give this book three stars, but I had a lot more problems with it than with those books I have actually given three stars to, and this book isn't as enjoyable. But maybe that's to be expected because of the heavy themes in this book. (Although I believe that however heavy the themes may be, a book can be a great read providing it's written well. That implies something about this book.) But I thought I'd settle with 3 stars anyway because it touched a very serious and important topic that is bullying. But then... I started thinking about something I like about this book... and none came up. Seriously. Usually I can find something to like in even the most boring book and give them two stars. Keep Holding On is by no means boring, but the fact that it has nothing that I can say I like about it makes it even worse than being boring. But it didn't enrage me like those I've rated one star, and I hate giving one star. I've been sitting here contemplating what to do with this book, and I've changed my decisions at least four times now. (Please forgive my obsession with rating.) And finally I decided to rate it two stars. It wasn't an enjoyable read but I don't hate it enough either. I don't know why I'm telling you this, but I feel like it's important that you know my feelings for this book weren't easy to pin down.
Noelle gets bullied a lot in school mostly for the fun of the ones doing it. Hurtful words are thrown her way and she even gets physically hurt. However, I felt little sympathy for her. I mean, I did feel sorry for her and don't want her to live like that, but she's not a very likable character for me. I can understand where she's coming from. I've been there, I've felt humiliated by not having as much money to pour down the drain like everyone else, not having clothes as fabulous, not having a house as gigantic, not living a life as perfect. These things haven't changed. It used to bother me so much when I was young, and it still bothers me a little from time to time, but I don't spend all time thinking (and whining) about it like Noelle.
Even though my situation probably wasn't as bad as hers, I know where she's coming from. She's poor and humiliated; she's insecure about herself and finds it hard to believe that anyone might be interested in her or even believe compliments. I feel for her, but she's difficult to like, what with her saying how much her life sucks all the time. Apparently she's too proud for free lunch even though she qualifies. Of course, she prefers to have her stomach growling for the whole school to hear rather than to get free lunch because she'll never "subject herself to that kind of humiliation." Girl, why do you care? Shouldn't your priority be keeping your stomach satisfied to survive? Is this really the right time to be so-- forgive my language--snobbish? She says her mother isn't a mom, and a part of the reasons is that she doesn't buy Noelle the stuff she needs like tampons and toilet papers. Okay, I understand that it's wrong of her mother to not do that, but really, if she doesn't buy you tampons, buy them yourself! Don't just let your blood stain the chair just because your mother doesn't buy you tampons. It's a lame excuse. And honestly, I don't understand what point the blood scene really tries to make. It just bothers me.
I felt like this book doesn't come out strong enough. It didn't make my heartache. Sure, it made me upset that bullying is going on, but that's about it. It's hard to feel emotionally invested with a book when you don't like the main character. Especially when the events in the story feel unbelievable. Here's a list:
1) It doesn't make sense to me why Julian likes Noelle. He says it's because she's different, but in the context in the book "different" kind of implies "not as rich as everyone else". What?
2) A very horrible thing happens later in the book, but after that things seem to get a whole lot better. I didn't buy it.
2.1) Suddenly the bullies stay away!
2.2) Suddenly the mother cares!
On top of all that, I wish I could at least say I liked the writing, but no. It annoyed me to no end. The narration jumps from one thing to another and form these unconnected parts of storytelling; from the present to the past that don't really connect but seems to happen because it's what Noelle randomly thinks about at the moment. It's all tell and no show. I can't describe it but I felt like the writing prevented me from getting into the story. I felt like I didn't know the other characters well enough. And another thing that bothers me is that the story doesn't start off well for me. I have a thing for opening sentences and opening scenes and this one just disappoints me. Yes, the first page was where I started feeling unimpressed.
I really hate to give any book one lonely star, and I never imagined I'd give it to a book written by Susane Colasanti. I'm sorry. I just didn't like it at all. I won't judge her, though. Maybe this book is just not for me. I'm the minority here 'cause most people on Goodreads think this book is great. But for me... is this book heartbreaking? No. Is it moving? Yeah, a little. I respect that the author wrote this book about bullying, which is also dedicated to Tyler Clementi who was a victim. I respect that she reaches out and wants to help. There are useful resources at the end of the book that tell you where you can get help from.
Although I didn't like this book, and I didn't like Noelle, I wish her the best. Noelle really has this belief that anywhere is better than where she is and she has her heart set on anywhere but here, and I hope that when she leaves this town one day, she's going to leave all the bad memories behind and that she's leaving it for a better place. No one deserves to be bullied, and no one really has the right to subject anyone else to it. Personally I'd say fight back, but you can do that or you can keep holding on. Don't give up. And like Noelle says, "Eventually, you'll find a real place that feels like home. [...] And you'll be so happy you held on long enough to make it there."
This review is also posted on Goodreads.
This review is also posted on Goodreads.
A digital copy of this book was provided by the publisher and NetGalley for review.