Title: Hold Still
Author: Nina LaCour
Rating: 4 Stars
If the breathtaking cover of Hold Still hasn’t already captured your attention, the beautiful writing inside certainly will. LaCour’s debut is an ambitious piece, taking on grief, confusion, and the swirling unknown of despair that leads to teenage suicide. While I can’t say that this is an easy read, because the sadness in it is practically overwhelming, it is a very well-written and powerful novel, one that every lover of moving prose, three-dimensional characters, and realistic approaches should invest their time in.
When our novel begins, Ingrid, Caitlin’s best friend, has just committed suicide. Needless to say, the entirety of this novel is Caitlin’s journey as she learns to move on and continue living, despite the gaping hole in her heart. Now, I’ve read my fair share of grief novels and, from my experience, they usually involve road trips, hot guys, or just escaping. As much as I enjoy and simply love those books, Hold Still is a far more real experience because, admit it, as a teen, what are the chances of you taking off in a truck across the country with a ridiculously hot guy, too? Zero. Thus, I found Caitlin’s journey, although far more depressing than I originally anticipated, being a much more realistic portrayal of teen grief.
In my eyes, the strength of this novel lies in Caitlin. LaCour gives Caitlin many tools; she allows her to find Ingrid’s journal, full of her deepest thoughts; she allows her to make a new friend in school, one who has also experienced loss; she gives her understanding parents who only want to see their daughter emerge from her numb stasis; and she even gives her a concerned classmate, one who wants the best for her. Yet, despite all these people willing to help Caitlin and the objects of Ingrid’s that she finds to help her understand her friend, they all somehow play a very minimal role in the novel. Instead, this book is all Caitlin, all her interpretations of Ingrid’s short journal entries, all her confused feelings and bad moods, all her slowly coping with this unexplainable grief.
Caitlin isn’t an easy character to like. For one, she’s closed off from others, her narration is deeply saddening, and she pushes away others. Yet, her growth throughout the novel is gradual and evident, which I loved. Perhaps best of all, for the reader at least, is that the grief that Caitlin feels, the same grief that seems to be pressing down upon us as we flip the pages, choking our words and enveloping us in darkness, recedes. LaCour is such a brilliant author that, truly, I was so very numb while reading the first half of this, but, like Caitlin herself, I slowly began to thaw. Even more than her prose, LaCour’s depiction of teens, the conversations Caitlin carries with her parents and her photography teacher, her blooming romance with the school’s most popular guy…it’s all so very believable.
Ultimately, I cannot recommend this novel enough. I am still blown away by the depth of some of the relationships in this story, the truly individual arc of growth, and just Caitlin herself. I feel like I’ve crawled into her skin since I know her so well, her passion for photography and to make a tree house, her parents, her friends, her worries, her aspirations, her heart… Hold Still is a contemporary that just cannot be missed. It is deep, lovely, and moving in all the right ways and will undoubtedly change your expectations about teenage contemporary novels for sure.