Having never read anything by Alan Gibbons before, I was really intrigued when I read about the reissue of Hold On in the Indigo blogger newsletter and had to request a copy. A novel about bullying, friendship and seeking justice, everything about Hold On appealed to me.
Annie has just returned to the UK after a stay in Canada and is shocked to discover her friend, John, has killed himself. The two of them connected after meeting by chance when their families were on holiday in Disney World at the same time. Annie is outraged that the bullies have gone unpunished and seeks to confront them.
While on holiday, John developed a crush on Annie and as such idealised her in such a way that she would inevitably let him down. This was hard to read as I felt torn between sympathising with John and wanting to tell him off for letting his happiness rest on one person. That said, this is how teenagers can act and that first intense crush is like this sometimes.
The dual narration of Annie in the present and John’s diary was used really effectively and made sure that Annie was not depicted as a superhero, perfect and set to confront the evil bullies, but showed the complexity of relationships and misunderstandings too. This is only a short book but it is one that is filled with questions and complex issues and is an important book.
At times it was hard to read Hold On, the descriptions of bullying and of John’s subsequent depression and difficulty to stop the abuse was horribly realistic. I hated how alone and hurt John felt and how the teachers couldn’t help him or see how on the precipice of a breakdown he was, particularly as his own family’s problems began to add to the weight he had on his shoulders and contributed to his suicide. Annie’s own understanding of how her rejection of him as a love interest may have also contributed to his depression and suicide was also very painful to read.
Raw, realistic and utterly heart-renching, Hold On is a tragic story about bullying, first love and redemption that makes the reader desperately wish the ending could be different. This is a short read and one that I think definitely deserves to be more widely read and acknowledged.
I received a free copy from Indigo for (honest) reviewing purposes. Hold On is available to buy now.