|KEEP HOLDING ON|
I'll admit I went into this novel with some bias. While I loved Colasanti's debut novel, When It Happens, her more recent novels haven't had the same impact and the didactic nature of Keep Holding On initially put me off. However, Colasanti's easygoing, straightforward writing style is put to good use here as we're immersed in Noelle's shabby life. With constant bullying and a mother who neglects her to the point of malnourishment, it would be easy to expect everything in Noelle's life to be full of despair. Happily though, there's a light in the darkness; Noelle has a loyal, wonderful, far-from-cliche best friend in Sherae, who never lets their wealth disparity come between them. Julian, the boy she has a crush on, has been showing more interest in her lately, and her super-nerdy, super-peppy physics teacher makes first period bearable even with everything else going on. It's these relationships, along with her introduction to the school's writing journal, that provides a counterpoint for all the gloom in Noelle's story and her life.
The characters here are refreshing: Sherae is one of my favorite YA best friends in quite a while and Noelle herself is surprisingly level-headed with a ton of common sense. And if she sometimes thinks less of herself than she should, well, that's not exactly unexpected considering her much-less-than-ideal circumstances. While the book is heavy-handed on the message of anti-bullying and one of the major plot points falls flat, this book exceeds expectations as a straightforward story of overcoming bullies. It's a surprisingly powerful novel, especially for teens who might be dealing with their own bullies.