Keep Holding On by Susan Colasanti

Publication Date: May 31st, 2012
Viking Juvenile
Format: Hardcover, 224 pages
RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars


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.

This was such a difficult read; the constant bullying was hard to take. Noelle’s story overwhelmed me in such a way that as much as I want to symphatize with her, I was angry at her for not standing up for herself. I was also furious with the way other kids and teachers alike did not do anything as they bear witness to the cruelties that she’d had to endure. But most of all, as a mother, this book terrified me. I’m thinking that home-schooling is sounding better and better if this is the kind of things that happen in schools nowadays.

Noelle’s suffering doesn’t begin and end in school. She has a mother who couldn’t care less about her. They’re dirt poor and she rarely has anything to eat at home. But I think the cruelest of all is the fact that her mother wouldn’t even look at her. And it wasn’t because she was guilt-ridden; it’s like she pretends her daughter doesn’t exist. Her mother was a bully of a different kind. She doesn’t set out to hurt Noelle physically but hers was a mind game of the painful kind.

The heartbreaking thing is how Noelle yearns for simple things that most of us takes for granted: a scrap of meat on her sandwich, a blouse that fits, a hug, a smile and really, she just wanted to be. Her existence is so sad that she’ll take having a relationship with a boy who’s ashamed to be seen with her rather than be alone. And when a kind, nice boy actually paid her any attention, she runs for the hills because she’s so crippled by insecurites that she doesn’t think she’s worth it.

What makes this book just a three star for me is that I can’t, for the life of me, symphatize with a character who refuses to do anything to better her situation.

  1. She whined about the lack of food and basic necessities at home. She’s working, she’s got the money. Go to the store and buy them yourself. Why wait for the irresponsible mother to do these things for you?
  2. She’s constantly hungry but apparently, pride is more important because she refused to use the “free meal” card that would avail her of proper lunch at school. And this is what I don’t understand: If you’ve got that much pride, then (see number 3)
  3. Why the heck would you give that boy another chance when he stood you up because he wasn’t ready to declare the both of you are in a relationship? Where’s that pride of yours when you most need it?

I will not pretend to understand how a young girl, inundated by such merciless unkindness and bullying thinks. And I don’t think of her wrong to act and feel the way she did. Ultimately though, I think I understand Noelle but I can’t say I symphatize with her.

VERDICT: This is such a powerful book with a powerful message. For the sake of my peace of mind I’d like to pretend this kind of things doesn’t happen. But ignorance isn’t always bliss. Noelle’s story made me angry at the world who ignores the cruelties she’d had to suffer. Right at this moment, I am overcome with powerlessness to protect my kids from the realities of life. Life, though, is a constant education and I hope that I can teach them enough to be brave, to speak up, to learn from their mistakes and fight for themselves and those who are oppressed.

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