, January 01, 2013
Before I begin, let me say that I absolutely adore this book, and I have from the first time I read it three years ago.
Also, this review contains minor (or major, depending on your definition) character/plot related spoilers. You have been warned.
Hold Still is at its heart a story about personal growth, moving on, letting go, and rebuilding one's life in the wake of tragedy. More specifically it's about how Caitlin's best friend's suicide turns her life upside down and forces her to question what had become the most important relationship in her life. While there are many other intriguing secondary characters, I found myself most drawn to Caitlin's personal journey throughout the course of the novel. As the story progresses you see Caitlin isolate herself from the world. You see her blame herself and subsequently punish herself by wrecking one of the most healing relationships she's formed since her Ingrid's death. But eventually she manages to turn her life around again, take control, and mend her broken relationships. It is this transformation that makes the story so powerful for me.
However, that is not to say that the secondary characters aren't important or relevant. Caitlin's parents, for one, are absolutely wonderful, and her mother in particular plays a crucial part in showing Caitlin's development. When Caitlin is depressed she tends to take out her frustration on her mother. What I love about these scenes is that Caitlin is never seen as being justifiable when she does this. Her mother (and father, though there's less conflict here) cares for her deeply, and is repaid for this with snide and often very hurtful remarks. I think some of the most crucial turning points for Caitlin are a) when she comforts her mother in the hardware store after it becomes obvious how much she worries about the possibility of Caitlin being suicidal, and b) when Caitlin gives in to one of her mother's requests willingly and with humor. (This is one of the funniest scenes in the book: after asking Caitlin to leave the door to her room open a crack when her boy friend is over Caitlin says, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Dylan is a lesbian, should I leave the door open when she's over?" "Are you a lesbian, honey?" "well, no" "then I think you can keep it closed.")
Which brings me to Caitlin's schoolmates (and Maddy, who is in high school as well, but goes to school in San Francisco). In general I think LaCour does an excellent job characterizing the social hierarchy in a suburban high school, as well as what happens when you don't really fit into that hierarchy. This is shown most eloquently through the students' treatment of Dylan (while there's no bullying because she's gay, she isn't exactly welcomed, either), as well as the way Caitlin has never really fit in, and how Jason is treated as the token black guy in a generally white school. As for my opinions on the characters themselves, I adore Dylan and Maddy--Dylan is such a source of wisdom, and ultimately inspiration, for Caitlin, especially when it comes to recognizing that she isn't the only suffering after Ingrid's death. Maddy is just lovely, there's really no better word to describe her, but she's also wise in a more conscious way than Dylan is. Furthermore, I think that Alicia and Henry, while not very likable, are really well characterized, and Henry even manages to be sympathetic as the privileged rich kid who can get away with anything, but has never known much love rom his socialite parents. Taylor is a bit too good to be true (when does the popular guy actually go for the odd one out, really?), but is adorkable enough to pull it off. He also gets really excited about history and pirate mathematicians, which earns him points in my book.
Lastly, one thing I've heard many times is that readers wish there had been more of Ingrid's story in the book, and/or that the official synopsis was misleading. I will say this: Hold Still is not a story about Ingrid, or about her suicide. Hold Still is a story about recovery, forgiveness, and the power of the human will. LaCour goes many places thematically in the novel, and many of them are dark, but the story ends on a hopeful note. Yes, sometimes tragedy strikes, and yes sometimes you lose people and can never get them back. Sometimes you let people down. Ultimately, though, life will get better, and whether the rubble of the past remains or is blown away, you can turn your life around again.