Keep Holding On

Keep Holding On - Susane Colasanti This is a difficult review for me to write, probably on a few levels because I don't think there is a person who isn't touched by the subject of bullying and how damaging it can be to anyone subjected to it, whether they're young or older. I have to applaud Susane Colasanti for reaching out to kids/teens who are bullied or abused, and writing a book that focuses on the life of a teen who feels that her world's crashing down on her.Unfortunately, I wish I could say that this was a better book to expound on the matter. It wasn't - I thought it was mediocre in its overarching presentation, even considering the age group it's intended for. While I think there are people who might appreciate the thematic that Colasanti builds within Noelle's situation without necessarily questioning some of the transitional points that the book takes, I couldn't overlook them because it threw me out of the book quite a few times as it went on. After a certain point, it didn't feel realistic anymore, but rather a heavy handed message that touched base on quite a few issues, but didn't have the emotional punch that perhaps other books who've tackled the subject of rape, child abuse, and bullying have had. The presentation felt haphazard and quite jarring (in a negative way) as the book went on. It's a shame because the story does start on a strong note and has some gripping moments that resonated with me long after I put the book down.Noelle is a 16-year-old girl who has a very tough life; she comes from a poor family. Her mother is neglectful and wants nothing to do with Noelle, her boyfriend wants to constantly keep their relationship a secret, her teachers and classmates seem to overlook blatant showcases of bullying against Noelle, and she's ridiculed for her poverty. Noelle is fortunate because she has a friend (Sherae) and a potential love interest (Julian) who are looking out for her, though they have issues of their own and Noelle sometimes pushes them away so as not to show how bad her situation really is.Here are my specific qualms about the book: I felt on one level it tried to take on too many subjects at once without really delving into them. As I mentioned previously, Colasanti deals with not only the overarching theme of bullying in the book, but also touches base on issues of rape, child abuse/neglect (in the case of Noelle and her mother), and suicide (I'm not going to spoil it for anyone, but it isn't shown with much dimensional sense of grief). For a book that tries to incorporate these elements and the moral lines that are crossed, it doesn't develop them by showing. It may be a case where I think Colasanti tries to take on too many of them within a certain amount of pages, and the message delivery is mechanical rather than natural. It tells the reader what conclusions to draw, rather than having the revelations and events speak for themselves.Another thing - the blurb of this book says this is a romantic story: not by a long shot. The romance in this is very underwhelming. This disappoints me because Colasanti actually developed teen relationships quite well in her previous books, even on the romantic end. This book had me asking "What the heck happened?" as far as that was concerned. I don't think it was a measure of the focus on the tough subject matter because she's written books that had a decent balance between the tough subject matter and the relationships between her characters. In previous books of hers I've read, I noted that maybe if the tough subject matter was delved into a little more, the book could've come across better in points. Often times, it had to do with very little backstory (even in my favorite book of hers). Here, it's a focus on the negativity and not on the organic nature of the relationships. They felt very loose, even among the secondary cast, and there were a few characters I liked seeing among that cast in a positive way, but it had a disconnect. Julian, the primary love interest, is barely within the story for a while and there's very little development or focus on his and Noelle's relationship. Granted, it is established that he's nice to her, and that she likes him and he likes her, but I wanted to know more about Julian than what was offered. Who was he as a character? What attracted Noelle to him? It's with this same hollow presentation that the guy that Noelle was with at the time (Matt) was using her in their relationship. The twist that came with Matt trying to keep their relationship a secret wasn't surprising, but I felt it didn't pack as much of a punch as it could've if the relationship structuring was deeper. I also didn't like that Noelle's self worth was contingent on whether Matt (or Julian) liked her. I'm not saying that doesn't happen to some teens on behalf of their self esteem issues, but it wasn't developed in this book. At the very least, I liked that Noelle's friend had enough sense to tell her how wrong this was, but the story didn't show Noelle's emotional shifts enough to have this hit home.The biggest problem I had with this book was the overt message delivery. It's somewhat heavy handed in its presentation throughout the book, particularly in the last third of the novel, where the story felt rushed to reach a conclusion and tie things off on all the threads established. After a certain point, Noelle becomes more of a message giver than a teenager going through all of these tough issues and coming to terms with them on her own. There's even a point where Colasanti mentions Tyler in the book - and for those who know, the book is dedicated to the late Tyler Clementi, who committed suicide following acts of brutal bullying on the part of his sexuality. On one hand I'm glad Colasanti mentions it because it shows a current event that had a significant impact on many people in the brutality of bullying and what it could lead to, but at the same time it also felt like a bit of fourth wall breaking in the way that it was presented. I think kids/teens or anyone reading this book would still recognize the brutality and be able to make the connection of how bullying is wrong and how hurtful it is without being told repeatedly. Showing is one thing - and I think the parts where Colasanti shows what happens to Noelle and the abuse she endures (the part where Olivia threatens Noelle's hair made chills go down my spine). But I was so put off by the overt message/lesson delivery that it lessened the impact of the events.And speaking of the ending of the book - no one recovers from bullying or what Noelle went through that quickly. I couldn't get behind how easy the resolution of events came in this novel. It didn't feel realistic and I think it was at that point where it lost quite a bit of impact with me, among other considerations.I definitely like and support Colasanti's writing and books, but unfortunately, I didn't like "Keep Holding On" - I think there are much stronger examples of YA literature that show bullying in very gripping ways while giving a realistic portrayal of events and relationships in an even manner. I can see where others might like it because it touches base on the tough details and for what it's worth, the book has its moments of impact. For me, it just didn't have the emotional resonance and progression given its subject matter and the heroine who has to rise above the negativity.Overall score: 2/5Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Penguin Young Readers Group/Viking.