Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti
Genre: YA ContempPublication Date: May 31, 2012
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Source: Publisher via NetGalley
A romantic and empowering book about bullying
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.
Keep Holding On is the first novel by Susane Colasanti I've ever read, and I have a feeling it won't be the last. It's not the best book I've read this year, by a long shot, but it contains something special that I can barely put name to. It was powerful, relatable on various different levels. And more than anything, this book has meaning.
Bullying is something I have absolutely zero experience with. I am a lucky teenager, because the majority can't say that. But even though I've never been bullied, I can relate to this book in ways I never even realized. Like, feeling like you're not good enough. There are always people out there waiting to belittle you, make you feel like you're not worth the air you breathe. That's something Noelle, the protagonist, battles a lot with. Another thing I can relate to is feeling gross. I know this is weird, but I think everyone understands. I'm pretty sure everyone has something about them where they think, "If anybody found out about this, they'd probably never talk to me again." Susane Colasanti really gives us a glimpse behind the scenes of people that most books overlook. The cringe-worthy stuff. The things that make people more than rainbows and unicorns.
Noelle was a character I enjoyed reading about, but didn' necessarily love. She is constantly bullied. The kids at school call her rotten eggs, they make fun of her scarce lunch, and they push her around. And the primary reason they pick on her so relentlessly is because she is poor. How sad is that? Tormented for something she can't even control? Sure, she did her best to hide the worst parts of her life, but she could only manage to thinly veil them. So, ya know, I really did feel for her. I wanted so badly to tell everybody that messed with her to EFF OFF. And I admired that she gathered the courage to get dressed and go to school every morning, that she didn't give up. She was strong in that way, but she was also crippled by her fear. When others were getting bullied, she was too scared to be there for them. She thought that if she stood up for them, or even if she just provided a shoulder to cry on, the bullies would just target her more. I get it, I do. But I didn't like it. Then there is Julian. He wants to be an architect, the kind who designs crazy houses with trees coming out of them and stuff. He is a total sweetheart throughout the novel, even when he was hurt by Noelle's actions. He is always fighting for Noelle and defending her. He knows what she is going through, and he doesn't care. He just wants to be with her and be there for her. The dude even designs Noelle's dream house for her. He is amazing and nonjudgmental.
There's a balance of awful and fabulous secondary characters. Sherae and Simon are Noelle's good friends. And when I say good, I mean the best! They are there for her through everything, even when she doesn't realize it. They try to do things for her in ways she won't realize because they don't want to embarrass her. Like Simon always buys Noelle lunch because he knows there's no food in her fridge. Sherae puts these gift baskets together with things Noelle really needs like socks and whatnot. Simon was probably my favorite character, with his wacky fashion sense and passion for the school newspaper, but Sherae reminds me a lot of my friends. I can't even count the number of times my friends have been willing to buy stuff and pay for me when I had no money on me. Noelle is luck to have such great people in her life, but she also has to deal with people like her mother, who is a horrid creature. She blames Noelle for everything bad in her life. She hardly feeds her daughter, and does nothing but complain. She's utterly awful and it is difficult for me to fathom that there are actually parents out there like her.
The ending left me with a smile on my face and a satisfied hum in my belly. Things aren't perfect for Noelle, but they're looking up. The growth in this novel is tremendous. Noelle is beginning to realize that she deserves happiness. Her friends have learned more about her life and of course they're more willing than ever to be there for her. Even her horrible mother is making an effort. So there's no shiny ribbon tied in a perfect bow, but it's better that way.
I'd recommend this book to anyone. Like I said, it's not the best book in the entire universe, but I can almost guarantee everybody can take something away from it. It is definitely worth the read.