Monday, December 26, 2011

Book Review: Hold Still

Recently, I bought the entire collection of novels from Penguin's publishing wing entitled "Point of View" --these are novels dealing head-on with topics many people find difficult to discuss.  Having just read and reviewed Thirteen Reasons Why, I picked up Nina La Cour's Hold Still yesterday and could not put it down (I finished it in two sittings)--both of the novels I read in the last 48 hours explore teen suicide.  I am working my way through these novels a few at a time, but I need a break every now and then from the prickly texture and weight of the subjects...but I am finding this is a beautiful stretch of novels.

In Hold Still, La Cour builds characters and relationships brilliantly--every character in this book resonates with life.  Even the protagonist's brief encounter with demolition expert near the end of the novel rings true.

While there is a lot to love in this novel (especially Caitlin's new friend, the "new girl in town" Dylan), I found myself admiring and moved by the subtle (and some not so subtle) layers of art and sensitivity.  If you read the novel, you'll enjoy the significant role photography plays in the lives of several characters.  It is used as a template for relationships, self-discovery, and self-expression.  The writer obviously cares a hell of a lot about art, and does great justice to the soul of the artist.

There is the art of writing (and a nod to beauty in song writing) and the art of theater and acting along with the art of photography...and the fact that La Cour writes the photography teachers as one who is exploring herself through her own imperfect art is a welcome touch.  Aside from the obvious arts, the writer also presents the art of friendship, the art of family, the art of love, and the art of forgiveness just to list a few of the big ideas.

One of the hallmarks of a great novel is that it gives me things to talk about, think about, and it asks great questions.  Just today, I could probably write a half dozen reviews of Hold Still and focus on something different each time.  My mind is swirling around all of the ideas that I want to express here, but in its simplest form what impresses me the most is that while Hold Still is built on a very difficult issue, it strikes me as brilliant that there are so many rich topics to discuss here beyond the very heavy and conspicuous iron post driven through each page of the novel--the intrusive and cruel iron post of teen suicide.

Yet, I've settled that I want focus on the writer's artful use of the tree house and the old theater as one example of the complexity of the novel's many layers: 

Caitlin, the protagonist, eventually sets to building a tree house one piece of wood at a time much in the same way that she is rebuilding herself one piece at a time after losing her closest friend.  This is not something she is fired up to do right from the outset of the story--actually, she is reluctant to the idea.  Her parents have a large pile of wood dropped off in their back yard because they know their daughter likes building things, likes projects--but in the current state of anger and depression she is inno mood to build.  So, the wood sits in a pile on the property...a parallel to Caitlin who can't sleep in her own bed.  She sleeps in the backseat of her car in the the driveway.

Slowly, she warms to the idea and begins by building a ladder.  As the novel grows and Caitin's rocky relationships are steadied and righted, the tree house comes together more and more.  At the same time, the date is finally announced for the demolition of a town landmark, a movie theater that Caitlin and her friend Ingrid secretly loved and shared together.

The demolition date was never set for a long time, just as the rebuilding of a life (Caitlin's life) could not have been predicted or planned.

This wonderful juxtaposition of rebuilding and demolition cross paths at the end of the novel in a beautiful final image of Caitlin taking a self-portrait of herself in front of the pile of rubble which was once the theater.

I want to write more about this novel--I want to tell you about the epiphany Caitlin has where she discovers and defines what friendship is...I want to write about the brave and ballsy pen of La Cour...I want to write about the theme of curiosity...I want to write about self-mutilation...I want to write about a teen's self-image...there is much to say and discuss here.


If I say too much here then I reveal too much here--I want to keep this review brief but sharp and plain.  I want you to read this book because this a great book.

Beyond all else, it is an artist's book written by an artist ready for recommendation to any high school student in your life.

photograher - Sarah Moon (one of the artists mentions in "Hold Still")

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