I had heard great things about Nina Lacour's Hold Still when it was first published in 2009. An illustrated young adult book focusing on friendship and the the ways we soldier on when encountered with tough issues like suicide was right up my ally, but I put off reading Hold Still for a while, even when I finally purchased my own copy several months ago, because I knew this was a book that was going to affect me. Big time. Like heartbreakingly, devastatingly so. And it did, it was, but it was a lot of other things too. In fact, Lacour's novel delivers in the area that has become a hallmark of YA fiction. She offers a realistic yet hopeful look at the painful and troublesome world we live in. It is dark and messy, but the characters can make it. There might be days where they can't get out of bed, but it's not one long novel of days where the main character can't get out of bed. Nor is it one long maudlin reflection on friendship and death, or a cursory, superficial look at teen depression and suicide followed by a cheery return to an artificial high school experience. It is a book that cannot be easily categorized because it most closely resembles life in action. The characters are living, breathing, and in motion - even when the world around them has shattered. Gayle Foreman, author of If I Stay and Where I Went, said it best when she wrote, "Hold Still may be the truest depiction of the aching, gaping hole left in the wake of a suicide that I've ever read. But it's anything but depressing and gloomy - it's also about the tender shoots of new relationships that grow unexpectedly out of tragedy."
Hold Still chronicles the year after Ingrid's suicide through the eyes of her best friend Caitlin. Caitlin is devastated by the loss of her friend and wracked with guilt, especially when she finds Ingrid's journal shoved under her bed full of letters to those she loved most. As Caitlin attempts to navigate life without Ingrid, she has to reacquaint herself with the places, like the old theater, pursuits, like photography, and people, like their photography teacher, that she shared with Ingrid. What results are new relationships and new associations and talents that still harbor Ingrid's spirit but give Caitlin the strength to move forward. Lacour's novel, however, is not a linear progression from grief to anger to recovery. It mirrors the true grieving process and cycles between days of unbearable sadness and days of refreshing growth and back again. Although Caitlin's story dominates, readers get an intimate peek at the effect of Ingrid's suicide and Caitlin's retreat on their parents, friends, and potential lovers as well. It is these emotional snapshots that have stayed with me long after the novel's close.
I highly recommend this book. I have read several books since my last set of mini reviews, but none of them captivated me as Lacour's Hold Still. Wonderfully written with bits of philosophy and art woven through, Hold Still "breaks your heart and puts it back together again" (Elizabeth Scott, Living Dead Girl).
Best matched with anyone who has traveled the weary road from darkness to light.