Saturday 2 October 2010

Hold Still, Nina LaCour

Mom says Ingrid's name and I start to hum, not the melody to a song, just one drawn-out note. I know it makes me seem crazy, I know it won't make anything change, but it's better than crying, it's better than screaming, it's better than listening to what they're telling me.
When Ingrid commits suicide, high school junior Caitlin is left lonely, grief-stricken and agonising about whether she could have saved her best friend. When the new term starts up, Caitlin tries to carry on as usual, reminded with every step of her absent friend. Her classmates, teachers and even her own parents don't know how to act around her while she tries to carry on: a girl she hasn't spoken to for years makes a well-meant but not-quite-heartfelt offer of support, one of the cool boys shows too much of a morbid interest. Caitlin and Ingrid's favourite teacher Ms Delani can't even acknowledge Caitlin's existence. Then Caitlin finds Ingrid's journal under her bed. What she reads within is painful: an honest account of Ingrid's losing battle with depression, left as an attempt to explain her decision to end her life.

With its first-person, stream-of-consciousness narrative style and the main character struggling to cope after a horrific, life-changing event, I found myself reminded of Speak. Although Caitlin is not as alone as Melinda - everyone knows what has happened - she too suffers in silence, unable to express herself. Like Melinda in Speak, Caitlin finds solace in art, in this case her photography (at least when she and Ms Delani have acknowledged their mutual grief) and also in her carpentry project: building a treehouse. (Trees, art - I wonder if Nina LaCour read Speak!) I found her parents quite difficult to sympathise with as they show little patience with her, despite not having the Sordinos' (of Speak) excuse of ignorance. I understand they would feel helpless as their daughter goes to pieces but they don't seem to acknowledge her reasons at all. The rest of the characters, however, are very well-written, especially new girl Dylan, who gravitates towards Caitlin as if she knows this is someone in need of a friend. Ingrid, as seen through her journal and Caitlin's memories is a very vivid character, and "not the sort of person you'd expect to kill herself," which is no doubt the point of the book: you can't tell what someone is going through beneath the surface.

I found Hold Still to be a fascinating, very sensitive but rather painful book. It does not romanticise the subjects of suicide and depression, but shows frankly the ugly effect of the unanswered questions and the ragged wounds felt by friends and family left behind. At the same time, the book never judges Ingrid, and through her journal I found myself drawn into dark places that, to be honest, I'd rather not go, in the mind of someone who can see no way out of her unhappiness. But Hold Still also shows how, although the grief will not go away, Caitlin is able to cope and carry on with her life, remembering her friend but not letting the past overwhelm her.

1 comment:

  1. i love your thoughts on this. i've pre-ordered the paperback and should be getting it this week! it's exactly the kind of book i like - contemporary UA that's emotionally evocative and the cover is beautiful :)


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