Friday, October 5, 2012

Review: Hold Still by Nina LaCour

In the wake of her best friend Ingrid's suicide, Caitlin is left alone, struggling to find hope and answers. When she finds the journal Ingrid left behind for her, she begins a journey of understanding and broadening her horizons that leads her to new friendships and first love. Nina LaCour brings the changing seasons of Caitlin's first year without Ingrid to life with emotion, honesty, and captivating writing.

“Hold Still” is a very… personal book. Not personal in the way that I have a personal connection with it, but more like the story is a very intimate one. Which, in itself, isn’t surprising, given the synopsis, but it’s a testament to Caitlin’s voice and LaCour’s writing ability. Oftentimes, first person narrators come off as detached or, worse, unlikeable - not so much here. Caitlin has a way of resonating with a reader.

While this book is essentially about Caitlin learning to cope with Ingrid’s suicide, it’s also a very deep exploration of friendship and how we change through our interactions with our friends. It made me think about the friendships I’ve had over the years, and how desperately I sometimes tried to hold onto them, even though there wasn’t any need to.

The depth of characterization doesn’t limit itself to Caitlin, too - all her friends, Dylan, Mady, Taylor, Jason and especially Ingrid are all three-dimensional and fascinating. Ingrid, of course, is a tricky character to handle, since she only gets to speak through journal entries, her pictures and Caitlin’s memories, but LaCour pulls it off well - her Ingrid simply leaps off the page.

More importantly, Ingrid is treated with respect and dignity. This story, which is essentially about coping with the suicide of a person you’re really close to, can easily turn into tragedy porn, or worse, only be used as an excuse for the heroine to angst about. Instead, LaCour treats us to a story about a girl desperately trying to get on with her life, but being continuously hamstrung by guilt and grief. Caitlin’s release from those feelings doesn’t come until she understands why Ingrid did it, and when Ingrid finally gets to explain, she explains honestly: because there are no reasons.

Ingrid’s depression isn’t a fashion statement, nor is her suicide “cool” - in fact, the reality of Ingrid’s actions is strongly offset by the attitudes of some “problem” kids at school, with whom Caitlin has one and only interaction. LaCour doesn’t romanticize mental illness - she depicts it in such a way that makes clear what a huge problem it was.

So while I loved “Hold Still”, there were a few things that made me uncomfortable - notably, the lack of a strong antagonist. While this is a character-driven book, and most of the conflict is internal, I still noticed that the more “negative” characters, such as the “problem kids” and Alicia, are not fleshed out as much as Caitlin and her friends. While I wasn’t hoping for a “Mean Girls” style portrayal, having a direct antagonist would have added a layer of tension to the book which I missed.

Also, while I enjoyed the ending, it felt a little bit too clean. Perhaps it’s because of the aforementioned lack of an antagonist, but still… something was missing. It’s odd, because I wouldn’t have objected to this kind of ending a few years ago, but after reading books with bittersweet endings, I think I prefer the messier, more ambiguous last chapter.

Nonetheless, it’s an amazing book, and highly recommended. Also, it has a very interesting history of being challenged, so stay tuned for tomorrow when I discuss it in more detail.

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