Friday, September 20, 2013

Middle-Grade/Teen Review: Hold Fast

For over a decade, I have been hearing great things about Blue Balliet’s mystery novels. My son read one of them when he was a middle-grader, but I never got around to it myself. I just finished her latest novel, Hold Fast, and absolutely loved it! What took me so long? This novel – appropriate for older middle-grade readers and teens (and adults!) – combines a mystery with a realistic story about a family who suddenly finds themselves homeless, all from the perspective of an eleven-year old girl. It is exciting and suspenseful but also brimming with emotional depth and insights into a world that many young readers know nothing about.

Eleven-year old Early loves her life. She is part of a close-knit family in Chicago, living in a tiny, one-room apartment with her parents and her four-year old brother, Jubilation (Jubie for short). She knows her family doesn’t have much money, but they have love and dreams and books. Early’s parents – and especially her father Dashiel – love to read and share books with their children. Dash also loves to play with words and works as a page at the Chicago Public Library. He dreams of one day getting a degree in library science, and the whole family dreams of one day having a house of their own.

This happy, loving family is shattered when Dash disappears suddenly one icy winter evening on his way home from work. The police aren’t much help – they seem to think Early’s dad left on his own – and before long, Early, her mom, and her little brother lose their apartment and are forced to move to a city shelter. Early’s life falls apart as she is torn from her school, her friends, and the only home she has ever known, all while worrying about her beloved father.

Dash taught his daughter well, though, and Early begins to look for patterns and rhythms in what has happened that might help her find her father. She unravels tiny clues left behind in a desperate search to bring her family back together. As the days turn into weeks and months, though, she is forced to take on more responsibility as her mother falls apart and gives into despair and hopelessness, and the three of them struggle to adjust to life in a shelter.

This incredible novel packs a lot into a few hundred pages. It is a heartwarming (and sometimes heartbreaking) story about family and the meaning of home. It is a suspenseful and complex mystery, filled with surprising twists you will never see coming. It is a realistic portrayal of what life is like for the estimated 30,000 homeless children in Chicago (that’s just in one city!). And it is a love story that attests to the power of words and books. I loved Early’s family and never wanted their story to end.

274 words, Scholastic Press

NOTE: Although this book is marketed to a wide range of middle-grade readers as young as 8, it is most appropriate for those in middle-school or older. The mystery at the heart of the story is fairly complicated, as are the emotions evoked by the plight of the main characters. I also think this book will appeal to teen readers who like realistic fiction, even though the main character is only eleven. And, as an adult, I loved this book and never felt I was being talked down to. I can’t wait to share it with some of my young cousins and nieces. Highly recommended.


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