Saturday, June 2, 2012

KEEP HOLDING ON by Susane Colasanti

Title: KEEP HOLDING ON
Author: Susane Colasanti
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (a Penguin imprint)
Release Date: May 31, 2012
Number of Pages: 224
Source of Book: NetGalley electronic ARC

A romantic and empowering book about bullying

Noelle's life is all about survival. Even her best friend doesn't know how much she gets bullied, or the ways her mom neglects her. Noelle's kept so much about her life a secret for so long that when her longtime crush Julian Porter starts paying attention to her, she's terrified. Surely it's safer to stay hidden than to risk the pain of a broken heart. But when the antagonism of her classmates takes a dramatic turn, Noelle realizes it's time to stand up for herself--and for the love that keeps her holding on.

Susane Colasanti consistently writes contemporary romance novels that are engaging for teens while still dealing with the ins and outs of high school drama and difficulties. With KEEP HOLDING ON, she's gone one step further. This book introduces us to Noelle who does not have a good home life and does not have a good school life. Noelle is bullied and it makes her day-to-day life in high school a hope-to-get-through-it experience. She seriously lacks self-esteem because of the neglect of her mother and the bullying of her classmates, so even if one is reaching out to her, she can't see it. She lets herself get into toxic relationships because she doesn't think enough of herself, and she avoids other relationships and situations that could be good for her because of her fear that it will increase what she has to deal with on a daily basis.

As a teacher, it is heart-breaking to read the things she has to put up with. As a former teen, it seems all too familiar. Things may be different now with the extent of what kids will do to each other and the age at which it starts, but it still resonates with me having been there myself. My own (or any reader's) situations may not be exactly like Noelle's, but too much of it seems hauntingly familiar. Susane Colasanti has written the story of what too many girls have to go through on a daily basis in high school in a real and honest voice. What they have to be afraid of, what they hope to avoid, how they deal with it. But Noelle's discovery of her own voice and value leaves the reader with a sense of hope.

I appreciated how this book was written as a countdown. Each chapter starts with the date and how many days are left in the school year. It gives it a sense of urgency and nervousness as to whether we will get to the end or not. Also, the way in which it sometimes jumps from one scene to the next makes it feel almost as if we're watching snapshots of the life that Noelle is having to live. It's a short-ish book and written in an easily accessible way, which is what it needs to be for this topic. One of the strongest parts of this book are the cast of supporting characters who actually do help make things better for Noelle. There are individuals out there who are looking out for these kids: teachers, social workers, friends, guys, and girls who want to help them through it. We need to start celebrating these people more in the lives of those who are subjected to the bullying that happens to them in school.

The book ends with a message from Noelle to all of those who have felt like they are outsiders or have no hope. It leaves with a message of hope. Then, Susane tells her story and provides the reader with names and information on many organizations that are out there to help them through. A powerful note to include in a book such as this that may open a teen's eyes to something they didn't realize before - that they can reach out and ask for help, and that they should.

Although it does contain a few mature scenes, I would share it with older middle schoolers, and I definitely think it should be in every high school classroom for teens to read.

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