Keep Holding On: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

Keep Holding On by Susane ColasantiNoelle is marking time until she can escape. In a year and a half she can get away from her mother’s erratic behavior and neglect. The torment she’s been suffering since middle school will finally stop. She’ll be able move away to the City without looking back. Her life can really start.

Before that can happen Noelle has to make it through the rest of her junior year. Not to mention senior year.

Some days Noelle isn’t sure she’ll last that long.

It’s hard enough being the poor kid in a rich suburb. Being harassed and humiliated and feeling completely alone makes it a lot harder. Even Noelle’s best friend doesn’t know how bad it is. No one does.

When Noelle’s long-time crush starts talking to her, she isn’t sure what to do. Sure, she likes Julian. But what happens when he realizes she is the punchline in almost every mean joke at school? What happens when Noelle starts thinking she doesn’t deserve him?

Noelle tentatively reaches out to new and old friends but the bullying just gets worse. Holding on to her dreams about her future aren’t enough anymore. It might be time to focus on what she deserves here in the present instead  in Keep Holding On (2012) by Susane Colasanti.

Find it on Bookshop.

At 224 pages, Keep Holding On is one of Colasanti’s shorter novels. It is inspired by Colasanti’s own experiences with bullying.

This book is a short, achingly honest read. Noelle’s experiences are horrific not just because of the abuse she suffers but because so many people see parts of the neglect and the bullying but choose to look away instead of helping.

Being so short, there isn’t a lot of room to expand the story or fully examine secondary characters. That said, Colasanti focuses on what’s important presenting a tight narrative about Noelle’s growth over the course a school year.

While parts of Noelle’s story will break your heart, Noelle’s resilience will help mend it. While Colasanti is known for writing about soul mates finding each other, Keep Holding On focuses more on Noelle’s own transformation as she realizes she deserves to feel safe and loved. More importantly, as the story progresses, Noelle realizes she is in control when it comes to finding those safe places–and love too.

Keep Holding On also has a list of resources for anyone who is feeling alone and wants to find people ready to help available at the end of the book and on her website: http://susanecolasanti.com/keepholdingon.html

Possible Pairings: Dear Bully: Seventy Authors Tell Their Stories edited by Megan Kelley Hall and Carrie Jones, Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen, Graffiti Moon by Cath Crowley, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta, Mostly Good Girls by Leila Sales, A Map of the Known World by Lisa Ann Sandell, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales

*This book was acquired for review from the publisher at BEA 2012

How to Steal a Car: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

How to Steal a Car by Pete HautmanKelleigh Monahan doesn’t drink, do drugs, talk back, or do any of the other things girls usually do to act out. In fact, if it weren’t for a series of bizarre coincidences, Kelleigh wouldn’t even have become a car thief in How to Steal a Car (2009) by Pete Hautman.

The first car, the Nissan, was barely even stolen. And after that, well, steal one car and suddenly everyone expects you to be a regular car thief or something.

That isn’t to say that this bookis an action packed heist book. It’s not. Despite its title, How to Steal a Car is more about the ennui and general frustration so often associated with suburban life–especially for teens.

Kelleigh is surrounded by people lulled into complacency by their quiet, suburban town while she, much like Moby Dick’s Ishmael as quoted in the beginning of the story, wants nothing more than to run away. Or, as luck would have it, to drive away in someone else’s car.

How to Steal a Car is an interesting, super fast read. Unfortunately that does not make it particularly compelling. While Kelleigh’s ennui was palpable, she remained painfully one dimensional as a character. Hautman’s portrayal of the rest of the characters in the novel were similarly lacking in depth. The story was interesting enough to keep me reading to the end, but the Kelleigh at the end of the story was basically the same Kelleigh we met at the beginning: a girl frustrated with her life and unsure what to do to fix it.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, Don’t Ever Change by M. Beth Bloom, The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Someday This Pain Will Be Useful to You by Peter Cameron, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga, Rx by Tracy Lynn, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The New Rules of High School by Blake Nelson, How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford, Gone in Sixty Seconds (movie).

Rx: A review

Rx by Tracy LynnI make no claims that this book shows the “real” life of teens or sensationalizes the less-than-dramatic reality. I simply don’t know. What I can say is that Rx (2005) by Tracy Lynn is very timely. Last December, for example, there were numerous news stories detailing the pressures teens face to be perfect and pretty and fun while making it all look easy. This book offers one explanation of how some teens do that.

Thyme Gilcrest goes to a competitive high school in a rich suburban neighborhood. It’s senior year and she is jockeying for position among the top 20 of her class–a coveted spot that Thyme can barely cling to despite hours of work each night. This all changes when Thyme gets a hold of some Ritalin to treat her self-diagnosed ADHD. Suddenly she can focus and life is good. Then her friends find out about the drug and start asking her to get other “cure alls” for them.

Lynn writes this story in matter-of-fact, concise prose. Narrated by Thyme, the story never offers judgment on the druggies, dealers and misfits that populate its pages. Instead, Lynn is simply setting down the facts as she knows them (read the afterward to see why the story is important to her) to offer up a cautionary tale about the hazards of prescription drug abuse and dealing.

The prose here is arresting. After the first pages I was hooked. Thyme’s commentary is sardonic and caustic–an appealing combination. At the same time, her story is painful to read as Thyme describes her let-downs and her own shortcomings. Despite that, the middle begins to drag as Thyme transitions from user to dealer. However, Lynn will throw in a trick now and then to surprise you.

Stylistically, this novel isn’t overly exceptional. It’s what I would term a “gimmick” novel–trying to cash in on the popularity (for lack of a better word) of the issue of prescription drug abuse in high schools.

The novel also deals with the world of privileged teens: kids whose parents have enough money that they are never home and leave their children with a bit too much free reign in their absence. The term “latch key children” might also come to mind. In a world where family dinners don’t happen as often as they used to, perhaps it’s not surprising to see more and more novels focusing on “latch key teens.”

Part of me wants to do more research on the subject to see if prescription drugs are really that available to random teenagers but, as with most things, I think it depends on the teen and the location. For my part, I had a nagging sense that the novel was overstating the problem or perhaps focusing on a more suburban phenomenon (although Meg Cabot’s new novel Jinx which is set in New York City briefly touches upon this issue as well). Perhaps I’m the only one who didn’t know how to go about getting illegal substances as a teen (and still doesn’t) and had no desire to.

At any rate, Rx is an interesting look at the burdens of overachievers even if the novel might leave you with more of a nagging feeling than a completely satisfied one.

Possible Pairings: Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson, The Vast Fields of Ordinary by Nick Burd, Finding Mr. Brightside by Jay Clark, How to Steal a Car by Pete Hautman, The New Rules of High School by Blake Nelson, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp