Author: Susane Colasanti
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Publication Date: May 31, 2012
Links: Amazon | Goodreads
Source: LibraryThing Early Reviewers
Don’t look up.
Lunch is the worst, but there’s no safe place at school for Noelle. Keeping her mortifying home life a secret and trying to ignore the kids who make her life miserable are Noelle’s survival strategies. Her emotionally distant boyfriend, Matt, isn’t the one she really wants to be with. But there’s no way she could ever be with Julian Porter.
When Julian starts talking to her, Noelle is terrified. It seems safer to stay with Matt than risk a broken heart. But when the bullying of a friend goes too far, Noelle realizes it’s time to stand up for herself—and for everything that makes her keep holding on.
Noelle is a vulnerable character with a lot of troubles. She doesn't ask for help, because she's a bit proud, and ashamed, and worried that talking about her problems in an attempt to lessen them will have the opposite effect of exacerbating them. My heart broke for her so many times. She has an inner strength like nobody's business to take her torment day after day, counting down the days to graduation and freedom and betterness. Noelle has a difficult time finding her voice and her confidence, standing up for herself, standing up for others. And that is one of the things that she has to overcome in this story. It reminded me of Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak in that way, and it's nearly impossible not to cheer for this girl. I did have a few quizzical moments regarding some of Noelle's reasoning. For example, she is too embarrassed to take advantage of the fact that she qualifies for free lunches, but she gets made fun of at lunch for packing sandwiches that only contain lettuce, or condiments. I fail to see how this is a better alternative to eating a healthy lunch even if you have to use a different color card to snag it from the cafeteria and may get teased for being poor.
I love the cast of supporting characters in Keep Holding On. Noelle's best friend, Sherae, is amazing and is always doing small things to try to help Noelle out without making it obvious. And she isn't the only one. The characters are, for the most part, incredibly believable. There are teachers that ignore the bullying and choose to look the other way, there are those who do recognize that something is maybe not okay with this girl. The mom is a terrible parent but is also a lost, weak soul who is too absorbed in her own problems. There's a depth to her beyond being just a bad mother.
The pacing is a pretty relentless onslaught of Noelle torture infused with small changes taking place throughout. It's a quick read at 224 pages, and delivers some important insights and messages to kids who may need them or who may know someone else who needs them.
If I had to find something to complain about (besides near-starving Noelle's weird aversion to free lunches), it'd be that toward the end of the novel, some of Julian's dialog starts toeing the cheesy line. But this is a heartfelt story with some lovable characters that are worth your affection and some awful characters that are well worth your scorn. There is a whole spectrum of emotions running through Keep Holding On, and hopefully there will be a lot of people who read it and feel every single one of them.