WARNING: THIS POST IS RATED R FOR MATURE THEMES.
So I seem to be pathologically incapable of reading those sappy teen books – when I grab general fiction it always seems to be about trauma. I picked up this week’s book, hold still, intending to compare it to Elizabeth Scott’s Love You, Hate You, Miss You from earlier in the blog. Yet what initially seemed like a sappy and clichéd look at teen suicide developed into a compelling story that kept me rooted in Coffee to the People for two hours more than I intended.
hold still, by Nina LaCour and illustrated by Mia Nolting tells the story of Caitlin, a high-schooler whose best friend Ingrid committed suicide at the end of the last school year. Nothing can jerk Caitlin out of her numbness until she discovers Ingrid’s journal stuffed under her bed. And from there the plot would seem predictable – Caitlin battles her way back to a place of peace while discovering the twisted sickness of her best friend. And yet NOT!
At first hold still seemed like a pretty shallow treatment of the plotline, but maybe fifty or so pages in I began to see that LaCour was really serious and turning out some great stuff. Caitlin knows she isn’t to blame for Ingrid’s death (this is a common trope in teen-lit that I was happy to avoid) and Ingrid didn’t come from a broken home or some terrible trauma. She was just a normal girl who was sick.
The brief glimpses of Ingrid that travel to us through her journal pages are incredibly poignant and well-crafted, and Caitlin’s understanding of her is incredibly mature, especially considering her position. At one point she remarks that “maybe she knew she could act like nothing had changed; maybe she got that good at pretending. Or maybe she thought that I would have noticed, and was disappointed when I didn’t.”
There are no apologies for or from Ingrid, even when Caitlin eventually finds her suicide note. She really was ill, but not the kind of gruesome illness that would “explain” (if that word can even been used in this context) her suicide. Ingrid is never demonized, and even when she is in the darkest despair there is a stark simplicity to her actions – of particular note is the scene in which she loses her virginity in a public park to some guys she didn’t even really know, just to hurt, and even then it doesn’t hurt in the way she wants it to.
Despite a sappy sideplot in which Caitlin builds a tree house, and the conventional boy and quirky new best friend who help her from her depression, this is a terrifically written book. There are a bunch of levels on which this functions for a multitude of characters, and the web of interaction is one of the most interesting points of the story. Thus, hold still rates an AJ on the PSA.
Personally, I think the moment in which LaCour most triumphs is a brief scene in which Caitlin comes across a minor character, a rude but popular boy sitting alone at a party looking surly.
“Life is shit,” he tells me.
I nod. “Maybe.”
His face is red with anger or embarrassment, I can’t tell which. I glance at the portrait, then back to his face when I feel him watching me.
“But not all the time,” I say. “I don’t think all the time.”