Nenia Campbell's Reviews > Hold On

Hold On by Alan Gibbons
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Mar 06, 14

bookshelves: real-teen-problems, ya-baby-ya
Read from July 17 to 18, 2012

Bullying - it's one of those things that pretty much everyone experiences at one time or another, either as the giver or the recipient or both. Most of the time, it has relatively little effect, resulting in the deletion of a few Facebook friends or a suspension, but sometimes the results can be catastrophic. This book deals with the latter of the two affairs.

Annie is an ordinary enough British school girl on the fringe of things. She has friends, but she's quiet and shy so she doesn't really know any boys. John is the school loner, the one kids love to hate. But only one specific group of boys really has it in for him - and they do horrible things to him, calling him "gay boy," "queer," "lardo," and numerous other hurtful names, verbally and physically harassing him, and pretty much just making his life a living hell the way only teenagers can.

When Annie and her family splurge on a trip to the States to go to Disney World, she is understandably shocked to see John, of all people, there. Annie's younger sister, Lauren, is friends with John's younger sister, Katie, and so the two families are forced to bond for better or for worse. Annie realizes that John is a pretty decent person: funny, sometimes, and a little intense, but not nearly as bad as the other kids make him out to be. Over time, she begins to consider him a real friend. John, on the other hand, immediately develops a crush on Annie (which he assumes is reciprocal), and puts her - and their relationship - on a pedestal that seems destined to disappoint.

The novel is told in journal-like entries, alternating between Annie's and John's POVs. This could have been really irritating and gimmicky, but it wasn't - it was kind of like a mystery, where you get fed clues one at a time, and the situation becomes clearer, like a jigsaw, as you gather more of the pieces together. Hold On starts off with Annie setting out to discover why John committed suicide, and what the four boys did to make him feel as if there were no escape.

As it turns out, it was far more complicated than Annie could have ever guessed at. I won't spoil it for you, but his reasons were a blend of mental illness, family issues, the bullying, and Annie's rejection of him as a potential love interest.

I was a psychology major in high school, so books like these really speak to me - especially since I know many people with depression and/or who were bullied in school, and they really do think like this. Obviously, not all of them commit suicide, but it's still horrible to see people go through that sort of thing. One of the main points that a lot of people don't understand, and which Alan Gibbons seems to get, is that bullying is frequently tailored to the victim - and it works because they have underlying psychological issues to begin with. Someone viewing this going on secondhand might underestimate the severity of the effects, thinking, "Oh, well, that's not so bad." Or, "Sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you." (That quote deserves to die.)

Overall, I enjoyed reading this. It was an interesting insight into the problems of schoolyard bullying in the UK, and reminded me a lot of The Bailey Game by Celia Rees (except that book had a much happier ending). I'd also like to point out that bullying seems to be a more serious issue in the UK, rather than the US. I've lived in both places, and I suspect it's because the UK is rather homogenized - there aren't a lot of people of other races and cultures. In the school I attended, for example, there were only two black people. In the whole school. (And keep in mind, UK schools run from 1st years to 6th years, or sixth grade through senior year, in American terms). I'm guessing it's because, in addition to physical appearance and social skills, things like class, ethnicity, and who your father was also come into it.

3 stars!
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