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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Monday, 21 January 2013

Review: Hold On by Alan Gibbons

Tense YA thiller with themes of bullying and suicide 

This short novel packs a real emotional punch. Using a first person present tense narrator - Annie, alongside diary extracts and the occasional poem written by John, her friend who committed suicide, there is a stifling closeness to the book. Just as Annie cannot 'get over it' or 'move on', we are locked in with her and want justice for John just as much as she does. The two voices also contrast beautifully, reflecting the two personalities: Annie's narration is crisp and sharp, while John's voice is lyrical and emotional.

The book opens at the beginning of a new school year, with John having committed suicide in the summer. Annie has been overseas for a year, during which time she met up with John by chance, and she is now returning to school, determined to seek justice. His story is gradually revealed through his diary, which Annie snatches the chance to read at his house.

Annie is a great character - loyal, determined, outraged on her friend's behalf. Her certainty that John's killers (as she sees them) must be recognised as such and punished drives her to be bold and to break some of the unwritten rules of high school. Her absolute conviction that John's death was effectively murder doesn't seem to be shared by others and it is clear from the start that if she wants to resume a normal high school existence, she will have to give up her crusade and just fit in, like everyone else. The fact that one of John's bullies - the most popular boys in the year - shows an interest in Annie cranks up the tension another notch.

I am sure that many teens will enjoy this book, and that it will provoke many to consider its themes in more depth. It would be a great class read, as there are so many opportunities for a probing 'what would you do?' discussion, or to discuss concepts such as guilt and responsibility. The circumstances of John's bullying, of his death, and of Annie's campaign are absolutely convincing and realistic. Teen readers will have no problems imagining that this could happen in their school, unfortunately.

Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to teens and up. This is a book that should be in every secondary school library.

The blurb says:

Glass breaks because it is fragile.
You don't blame the glass for breaking.
A heart breaks because it is fragile.
So why blame the heart for breaking?
Why blame me?
John Sorrel

I won't be afraid anymore. I won't beg. I won't plead. I won't hurt. I will be strong. This will the the last time that I cry.

But a month later John commits suicide.After a chance meeting with him on holiday in Florida, Annie feels she's on the edge of being John's friend. She didn't realise she was his lifeline. Now she vows to uncover the truth about John's short life. This is his story - a story of our times.

Published 2012 by Orion
Find more information on the publisher's website
My grateful thanks to the publisher for sending me a review copy

1 comment:

  1. I have this one on my pile to read, I'm really looking forward to reading it!


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