Hold Still by Nina LaCour tells a story about loss, grief, the feeling of having terribly failed someone, about friendship, remembering and new beginnings, as the blurb indicates. But it also is about Photography and The Cure, which alone would have been enough for me to like it. However, if my feelings for this book stopped at just liking it, I would not be sitting on a balcony in the sun, writing this blogpost and listening to „Lovesong“ and „Just Like Heaven“ repeatedly right now. So, in the following, let me tell you which other feelings reading Hold Still evoked in me.
„Though it’s about a tragedy, hope and resilience are its heart.“LaCour, Nina. Hold Still (S.243). Penguin Young Readers Group. Kindle-Version.
This quote from an essay by Nina LaCour herself which is published at the end of the book summarizes quite well what Hold Still is for me. It definitely tells a story of loss and grieve. It would be horrible if it did not, because it is about a girl killing herself and the way people who loved, liked or even just knew her a little deal with her death. In this way, the story certainly is a sad one. A very sad one. But Nina LaCour seems to have a gift for not leaving readers behind destroyed and completely heartbroken but with a flicker of hope in their hearts instead. (This is the case with We Are Okay, too). And with the feeling of having just read something extremely beautiful at that.
„What it was, was that we complemented each other.“LaCour, Nina. Hold Still (S.45). Penguin Young Readers Group. Kindle-Version.
When her best friend Ingrid takes her life, Caitlin still is a rather shy teenage girl. The two of them spent most of their time together, discovered a common passion for photography and shared everything with each other – everything despite the fact that at the time of her suicide, Ingrid has already been clinically depressed for years. Caitlin has not known anything about this part of her friend’s life and is taken aback by the sudden loss of the person closest to her. After Ingrid’s death, Caitlin finds her best friend’s journal, stuffed under her own bed. Over the course of nearly one year, she reads it, one entry a day, and gets to know Ingrid for a second time, with all her fears and the facets of her illness laid open.
The book captures Caitlins way of dealing with her loss and with remembering Ingrid. But the book also is about moving on, building new friendships and falling in love. It deals with getting to know oneself by living through a tragedy or a difficult time and with the possibility of coming from it strongly, despite all the hurt and grief Caitlin has to endure.
In a way, Hold Still also is a Coming-of-Age story, dealing with growing up a lot. Which I personally did rather late, so even though I am in my twenties, I still enjoy reading stories that help me with rearranging my mind being an adult now.
At the beginning of the story, Ingrid is already dead. Nevertheless, I feel like she deserves an own section in this review. The story told in Hold Still starts at the exact moment Caitlin finds out about her best friend’s suicide. Therefore, the reader only gets to know Ingrid through Caitlin’s – and later also some other people’s – memories of her. This is why, for a long time, I felt like I could not get hold of Ingrid’s personality the way I wanted to. The story I read was mainly about Caitlin dealing with the loss of her closest friend, which I enjoyed because it was slightly less sad than a story solely dealing with a teenage girl taking her life would have been.
But I wanted to understand Ingrid. As Caitlin wishes to do, too. My feeling of not being able to get to know Ingrid very well partly evolved from Caitlin’s unsureness in whether she really knew her as well as she thought she did. This was one of the most interesting parts of the novel for me: Caitlin herself having to come to know her friend for a second time as a girl suffering from mental illness to understand why she took her life.
In the end, it was one rather simple sentence that finally changed the way I saw Ingrid. It somehow changed the energy of her character. Caitlin finally seems to get behind everything Ingrid meant to her. When I read the part where she summarizes it, I suddenly felt like crying. Because although Ingrid is a fictional character that has been dead for the whole course of the story and whom I did not even get to know “personally” on paper, I missed her. While I liked the rest of Hold Still, this was the part of the book that finally got to my heart. It was the place where the hole in Caitlin’s heart got a proper form.
Yes, there is love, too. Love between girls, love between boys and girls, love for family members and close friends. Love in all its beautiful, diverse, important and healing ways.
„Instead, every muscle in her whole body seems to lose all tension, her step forward resembles a skip, and she lets out a hey that might as well say, I love you, you are so beautiful, no one in the world is as amazing as you are.“LaCour, Nina. Hold Still (S.86). Penguin Young Readers Group. Kindle-Version.
Veena or The Teacher’s Role
Another person dealing with Ingrid’s sudden death, apart from her friends and family, is her and Caitlin’s photography teacher, Veena Delani. I’m giving the young woman an own paragraph in this review, too, because she is my favorite character from Hold Still. I think this is because I remember admiring certain female teachers in school as well. Therefore, I understand Caitlin’s and Ingrid’s admiration for Miss Delani. Good teachers can mean a lot to children and teenagers who are on the verge of adulthood. They often become role models and therefore give self-confidence and security. But with being a role model comes a responsibility Veena (as Ingrid and Caitlin secretly call Miss Delani) does not know how to deal with anymore after Ingrid has taken her life.
„I was so blinded by her talent that I didn’t recognize the tremendous pain behind her work. She gave me hundreds of images, so many chances to see that she was in trouble. I failed her.“LaCour, Nina. Hold Still (S.142). Penguin Young Readers Group. Kindle-Version.
I found Veena Delani’s character especially interesting because of her young age. The lack of experience that comes from it causes her to blame herself for Ingrid’s suicide. The loss of her favorite student hits her very hard. Her reaction to it does not only lead to her feeling of having failed Ingrid, but to Veena acting in a way that disappoints Caitlin, too.
Furthermore, Veena Delani’s photographic art shows that there is more to most persons than we are able to see in routine everyday interactions. She expresses these different facets through photography – a point leading to the last topic of this review.
The Cure and The Camera
„It was the moment I realized what music can do to people, how it can make you hurt and feel so good all at once. I just stood there with my eyes closed, feeling the movement of all the people around me, the vibration of the bass rise through the floor to my throat, while something inside me broke and came back together.“LaCour, Nina. Hold Still (S.47). Penguin Young Readers Group. Kindle-Version.
Throughout the book, there are plenty references to music and art, especially to photography and the British Band The Cure. I really like The Cure. And I love taking photos, trying to create something special from a thing that does not seem to be special at all until it is seen through a camera’s viewfinder. In Caitlin, Hold Still has a main character with my taste in music who also creates my favorite kind of art. So, all in all, what more could I wish for in a novel?