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Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson

Hold Still

Hold Still - Nina LaCour ”You might be looking for reasons but there are no reasons.”It was this simple line that made me realise that I not only liked, but respected this book.Out of context, it is an ambiguous, awkwardly phrased sentence that makes my fingers itch to shove in some punctuation. In context, it’s one of the most powerful statements in the entire novel. It’s a deeply insightful expression of understanding, an extension of empathy, distilled into one potent line.Mental illness is not a choice. And had this book set out to explain Ingrid’s death with a list of reasons it would have been doing not only Ingrid, but others who experience mental illness, a gross injustice, invalidating the fact that depression is a disease.Fortunately, Hold Still approaches the topics of mental illness and suicide with respect and honesty. I have shared my thoughts previously on the subject of grief in fiction, and I don’t hesitate to say that I find it an extremely polarising theme. My response as a reader largely hinges on the manner in which it is presented – and when I perceive this to be at all gratuitous, it tends to make me punchy.But Hold Still is not only a sensitive portrayal of grief, but a beautifully written story about healing and hope. There’s an articulate, literary style to La Cour’s writing, without sacrificing the authenticity of her teen narrator’s voice. The story opens in Summer, in the wake of Ingrid’s suicide, and follows Caitlin through the year - coming to terms with her best friend’s death, and navigating life without her. Ingrid leaves behind her journal for Caitlin to find, and through its pages Caitlin must confront the reality of Ingrid’s illness and subsequent suicide. In the process, Caitlin gains greater insight into her friendship with Ingrid, and the person Ingrid beyond Caitlin’s interactions with her. I really appreciated La Cour’s integrity in writing her characters here – showing that their friendship was not perfect, and that understanding this was fundamental to Caitlin being able to grieve and forgive. Aside from Ingrid’s journal, which forms part of the novel through handwritten notes and drawings, Caitlin’s character development is facilitated through various relationships with other characters. One of the greatest strengths of the novel, in my opinion, lies in La Cour’s crafting of these complex dynamics, growing the connections in a manner that feels organic and fluid. Caitlin’s parents, her photography teacher, Ingrid’s not-so-secret crush, the new girl at school, and persistent classmate Taylor all play a role in Caitlin’s internal journey. It’s through these nuanced relationships that Caitlin begins to heal and move forward. I enjoyed the role of photography in the story, particularly as a means of expression for Caitlin (as well as Ingrid and their teacher). While the discussion of imagery in the novel occasionally felt a little didactic, it effectively communicated Caitlin’s emotional state and played a pivotal role in her grief for Ingrid. The building of the treehouse was a slightly less subtle motif for the themes of the novel, but all the same it added an interesting dimension to the character of Caitlin, and I’m all for contemporary YA protagonists who moonlight as carpenters. However, while this is Caitlin’s story, it’s Ingrid that left the most profound impression on me. In Ingrid, La Cour has created a complex and very real character, a girl of contrasts, showing the world one side of her face and hiding the other away. Ingrid’s pain and sadness are palpable in her letters, yet I think the book did her justice in developing her as a character, and not merely the inciting event for Caitlin’s journey. Above all, I admire the choices La Cour made in her depiction of Ingrid: honest and unflinching, while also according her the dignity of not being entirely defined by her suicide. Hold Still is an impressive debut, and the strength of La Cour’s writing complements the weight of the themes. It’s a moving, sad, and ultimately hopeful story. Recommended. Cover Note: On the subject of photography – the cover image is the work of UK-based photographer Rosie Hardy