Review: Paradise Kiss Vol 1 by Ai Yazawa

 

Title:  Paradise Kiss V 1

Author:  Ai Yazawa

Publisher:  Vertical

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Yukari is a spirited high school senior in the process of studying for her college entrance exams. Sadly the prospect of subjecting herself to a meaningless dull life leaves her feeling depressed about the future.  In a bout of frustration, Yukari begins to ignore her courses and she begins to hang out with a group of fashion design students. But what Yukari doesn’t know is that this circle is known as Paradise Kiss, and they are run by a pair of young designers already making their mark on the Asian scene. Furthermore, while her life is going to soon change, it will not be due to the elite political or commerce based future her family may have hoped for, instead her life may eventually be set in a world of high fashion, with her strutting down the catwalk as the face of Asian fashion!


Review:

How lovely to see Paradise Kiss back in print after so long!  This series,  Peach Girl, and Marmalade Boy  are directly responsible for my love of graphic novels.  During the hey-day of the US manga craze, there were so many wonderful books being released that it was hard to keep up with them all.  There was also a lot of garbage hitting store shelves, in such an overwhelming wave, that buyers couldn’t keep up.  Then the recession hit, and it was bye-bye to several of my favorite publishers.   CMX’s demise hit me the hardest, because DC’s imprint had licensed some unique titles, and many of the series that I followed were being released by them.  When Tokyopop shuttered, I actually became so discouraged with comics that I started reading prose books again.  Am I bitter that I will never see the end of I Hate You More Than Anyone or Kamui?  Am I upset that Silver Diamond and Demon Sacred were never competed?  You betcha! That’s one reason why I was so happy to see ParaKiss back in print with a new publisher.  This is a timeless story of a high school girl’s coming of age, with fun characters and gorgeous illustrations.  It deserves to stay in print, and since it’s been ten years since it was last published, there is a brand new audience out there just waiting to discover it.

One thing that I love about Ai Yazawa’s storytelling style is how she sprinkles humor into her plot when events get emotionally intense.   There is so much drama, drama, drama, which I love, and then all of a sudden there is this marvelous little blast of humor – either a joke from one of the characters or a humorous visual to ease all of that tension, just a little bit.  It is more evident in NANA (speaking of which, what happened to NANA?), but there are small glimpses in this first installment of Ai Yazawa’s classic romance.  I enjoy the contrast to the heart-stopping tension, and look forward to seeing how she’ll maneuver her characters from emotional trauma to eliciting an chuckle from the reader. 

In ParaKiss, Yukari is a high school senior with a lot of her mind.  She is cramming for her college entrance exams, and she doesn’t have time to get involved with a bunch of weirdos from the local fashion school.  Once she meets charismatic George and is caught under petite Miwako’s charm, she has no choice but to model for their fashion show.  There is so much change in Yukari from the opening chapter,  where she is risk adverse and single-mindedly intent on her studies, to the end of this volume, where she is fabricating lies for her parents so she can spend more time with her new friends in their basement studio.  She is finally starting to assert herself, and to reject her mother’s stranglehold over her.  Finally, there is something that she cares enough about to fight against the carefully planned path her parents have laid out before her.  Is it in her best interests to get caught up in the lives of these creative and impulsive people?  Probably not, but the rush of being with them is intoxicating, and she’s not willing to let it go.

George is so far over her head that I worry for Yukari.  He is jaded and worldly, while she’s lived a very sheltered life.  No friends, no boyfriends, few connections outside of her family.  George is like a blazing torch, and she is drawn, against her will,  to his brilliance.  As I read the book this time around, I sympathized more with her confusion over her feelings for George.  She’s not accustomed to expressing her feelings or hanging out with a guy, and everything that George does sets her world on end.  He is intense and self-confident, and he rushes head-first into everything that life has to offer.  Yukari isn’t prepared for a guy like George, and now that she’s caught his attention, she isn’t sure how to keep it fixed firmly on her.  All of the emotional ups and downs of that first relationship are intensified by George’s vivid personality.  She doesn’t stand a chance against him, and I kept wondering if he was just dicking around with her from the moment he met her.

I love the art.  Ai Yazawa’s delicate, detailed character designs are distinctive and beautiful.  The clothing is also stunning, but how can you possibly have a story about fashion designers and have everybody wearing ugly clothing?  You can’t, and the clothing take on a life of their own.

If you enjoy drama and that pulse-pounding confusion of first love, give this series a shot.  If you enjoy comics with beautiful clothes and beautiful characters, give this series a shot.  If you are interested in manga and haven’t read any of it yet, this is a good, short (3 volume) title to get you started.  It’s still as pretty and as moving as it was 10 years ago.  As always, Vertical’s presentation is top notch, with a new translation and a bigger, bolder trim size than the previous version.

Grade:   B+

Review copy provided by publisher

This Week’s New and Notable Young Adult Releases–October 9

There are a couple of big buzz titles this week.  Velveteen, Mystic City, and Valkyrie Rising are at the top of my wish list.  What’s on yours?

Click the covers for the Amazon product page.

All You Never Wanted by Adele Griffin (Oct 9, 2012)

After by Ellen Datlow (Oct 9, 2012)

Samurai Awakening by Benjamin Martin (Oct 10, 2012)

The Bridge by Jane Higgins (Oct 9, 2012)

Bushman Lives! by Daniel Pinkwater (Oct 9, 2012)

Guardian  (A Halflings Novel) by Heather Burch (Oct 9, 2012)

Jepp, Who Defied the Stars by Katherine Marsh (Oct 9, 2012)

The Katerina Trilogy, Vol. II: The Unfailing Light by Robin Bridges (Oct 9, 2012)

My Own Revolution by Carolyn Marsden (Oct 9, 2012)

Mystic City by Theo Lawrence (Oct 9, 2012)

The Opposite of Hallelujah by Anna Jarzab (Oct 9, 2012)

Paradise by Joanna Nadin (Oct 9, 2012)

Romeo Redeemed by Stacey Jay (Oct 9, 2012)

A Thunderous Whisper by Christina Gonzalez (Oct 9, 2012)

Time Between Us by Tamara Ireland Stone (Oct 9, 2012)

Valkyrie Rising by Ingrid Paulson (Oct 9, 2012)

Velveteen by Daniel Marks (Oct 9, 2012)

What Happens Next by Colleen Clayton (Oct 9, 2012)

Demon Eyes (Witch Eyes) by Scott Tracey (Oct 8, 2012)

Foxfire (An Other Novel) by Karen Kincy (Oct 8, 2012)

The FitzOsbornes at War (The Montmaray Journals) by Michelle Cooper (Oct 9, 2012)

Review: Limit Vol 1 by Keiko Suenobu

 

 

Title: The Limit Volume 1

Author:  Keiko Suenobu

Publisher: Vertical

In stores October 9, 2012

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Mizuki Konno is your typical high school junior at Yanno Prefectural High School. Like many teens her age she is studying hard for college and when she has some down time she likes to fuss over fashion and make-up. While she may not be one of the class elites, Mizuki is fortunate to be on the right side of her class’s idols. But that might not settle well with those who are in a similar academic status but not so lucky with their social lives.

Mizuki really isn’t a bad person. However she understands that she is one of the haves. And even if she only has so a strand to hold on to, that’s much more than the introverts or the socially inept.
On the day of the field trip, Mizuki’s position with the cool kids cannot be better. But now a good portion of her class are now firmly against her. While this "lower" clique may not be united, their hatred is much stronger than their differences. Unfortunately tragedy strikes in the form of a traffic accident. And now the class is split into two new groups…the living and the dead!

Almost the entire class has been wiped out and the five remaining girls are injured and lost in the wilderness. They also hate each other, and in a mix of Lord of the Flies with Heathers these girls begin to assert their wills against each other to try to survive while enacting a new class structure where looks and style is no longer the definition of influence.


Review:

When it comes to manga lately, I feel like I’ve been living under a rock.  I received this review copy, and wasn’t familiar with the title at all.  I love the cover, though, with the main protagonist standing defiantly, yet a bit battered, and staring boldly ahead.  The cover is very simple and eye-catching, and I immediately sat down to read the book.  Keiko Suenobu is also the author of LIFE, which was being released by  Tokyopop before they shuttered their offices.  I haven’t read any of that series, but after reading Limit, I am tempted to track it down.

Limit is a Lord of the Flies type story.  After their school trip goes horribly wrong and their bus crashes, Kanno and four of her classmates are stranded in the middle of the woods with only their wits to aid in their survival.  With their teachers and classmates dead, the five girls must juggle their fear and panic with their feelings for each other.  This is a diverse group of personalities, from the bullied Morishige, who has the only weapon and is brimming over with hate and resentment, to Kanno, who was part of the popular clique who made Morishige’s life hell at school.  Sakura, the ringleader of the clique, is dead in the bus, and Haru, one of the survivors, isn’t dealing with her best friend’s death very well.  This is a powder  keg of emotions just ready to blow, and only Kamiya realizes that it’s going to take more than luck to survive until they are rescued.  She immediately attempts to use diplomacy and get everyone to work together to ensure their survival, but she’s not having much luck.  There is a lot of resentment and so much ill-will to overcome, that things look bleak for our intrepid cast.

Limit focuses on the complex relationships the girls have formed over the years.  Angry Morishige is delighting in her sudden ascent to the top of the food chain; she’s got the weapon, and she hates everyone enough that she won’t hesitate to use it.  She casts everyone else in the pyramid beneath her, leaving Kanno and Haru to battle it out for the bottom rung of the ladder.  With the weapon, Morishige also controls the meager food supply the girls have foraged from the wreckage of the bus.  After being a bottom-feeder for so long, she is ecstatic to feel some kind of empowerment over the girls who constantly picked on her and made each school day so horrible. 

I thought that this was a great introduction to the series.  I reached the end and wanted more.  The relationship dynamics bubble with emotion and kept me engaged in the book from the first page.  Kanno isn’t an extremely likable character because she always takes the path of least resistance.  She’s a sheep to Sakura’s domineering personality, and once Sakura meets an untimely end, Kanno realizes how meaningless her other relationships truly are.  Avoiding confrontation, kissing up to Sakura, and trying to hold a middle ground so she wasn’t bullied didn’t endear her to her classmates, she is learning the hard way.

I love Keiko Suenobu’s expressive artwork.  I never had to guess how her characters felt as they were maneuvered from one panel to the next.  Emotions are deftly rendered here, and the visuals are as compelling as the prose.  This is a great start to a series that will appeal to fans of conflict driven stories.  I don’t know how the girls are going to reconcile their feelings for each other and still survive all alone in the wilderness, with no food and only a cave for shelter.  I am looking forward to the next volume!

Grade:   B

Review copy provided by publisher

Interview with Erin Jade Lange, Author of Butter

Erin Jade Lange is the author of the recently released BUTTER.  She recently dropped by the virtual offices to discuss her new book, so check out what she has to say.

[Manga Maniac Café]   Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Erin Jade Lange] I’m a shy girl pretending to be outgoing. I’m more “one of the guys” than a girly girl. And I love loud music and surprises.

[Manga Maniac Café]  Can you tell us a little about BUTTER?

[Erin Jade Lange] BUTTER is the story of an obese teenager who announces a plan to eat himself to death live on the internet with one epic “last meal.” When his plan makes him suddenly popular, he no longer wants to go through with it. But can he keep that popularity if he doesn’t do what he promised?

[Manga Maniac Café]  How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Erin Jade Lange] My stories always start with characters and evolve from there. Butter came to me with his morbid plan already in place, but I had no idea whether he would go through with it until I started writing.

[Manga Maniac Café]  What three words best describe Butter?

[Erin Jade Lange] Sarcastic, talented, angry

[Manga Maniac Café]  If Butter had a theme song, what would it be?

[Erin Jade Lange] “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash.

[Manga Maniac Café]  What is Butter’s most prized possession?

[Erin Jade Lange] His saxophone. For sure.

[Manga Maniac Café]  What are your greatest creative influences?

[Erin Jade Lange] Reality is probably my biggest influence. I absorb and internalize a lot of the stories I write as a TV news producer, and those stories tend to inform my writing in some way. It can be as obvious as the headline topics of internet bullying and teen suicide in BUTTER or as subtle as the poor economic climate in next year’s book.

[Manga Maniac Café]  What three things do you need in order to write?

[Erin Jade Lange] A cup of coffee, a comfortable chair and a nice big chunk of time.

[Manga Maniac Café]  What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Erin Jade Lange] A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

[Manga Maniac Café]   If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Erin Jade Lange] Charlotte’s Web was my first “big girl” book. After that, I just never stopped reading.

[Manga Maniac Café]  What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Erin Jade Lange] I snowboard (though I’m not very good at it); I play guitar (though I’m very VERY bad at it); and lately, when I’m not reading or writing, I’m planning my wedding.  Smile

[Manga Maniac Café]  How can readers connect with you?

[Erin Jade Lange] Website: erinlange.com + blog: butterslastmeal.com + facebook: facebook.com/erinjadelange + twitter: @erinjadelange

[Manga Maniac Café]  Thank you!

You can order BUTTER from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below

Interview with Susan Vaught, Author of Freaks Like Us

 

Susan Vaught’s latest release, Freaks Like Us, recently hit store shelves.  Susan stopped by the virtual offices for a chat.  Check out what she has to say!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Describe yourself in 140 characters or less.

[Susan Vaught] Long hair, pacifist, likes chocolate, reads a lot, has parrot, too many dogs, three cats, loves writing, likes football, works in an asylum.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Can you tell us a little about Freaks Like Us?

[Susan Vaught] Freaks Like Us is a fast-paced mystery, with most of the story taking place in the 24 hours after Jason Milwaukee’s best friend and sort-of girlfriend disappears. To find her, Jason has to battle his mental illness, his self-doubt, and prejudice from other people involved in the search.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  How did you come up with the concept and the characters for the story?

[Susan Vaught] I have been wanting to write through the eyes and voice of a character with schizophrenia for many years, but it took me a long time to develop just the right personality so readers could relate to Jason. The other characters came more naturally, and they all contend with issues I have either faced in my own life/family, or treated in my years of practice as a psychologist. The mystery element of the story unfolded as the story moved along, surprising me at the end of the first chapter!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What three words best describe Jason?

[Susan Vaught] Brave, Loving, Determined

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What three things will Jason leave the house without?

[Susan Vaught] Three things he wouldn’t leave the house without would be Sunshine’s locket, his house key, and Agent Mercer’s private telephone number. If it’s really supposed to be what he WOULD leave the house without, then the answer would be . . . just about everything else. Jason can get pretty distracted and forgetful. Lunch money, his phone, his homework—all of that might get accidentally abandoned on any given day.

[ED – oops, yes it was a typo.  Thank you for the wonderful answer Smile]

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  If Jason had a theme song, what would it be?

[Susan Vaught] Possibility, by Lykke Li. I think the haunting sound and the words/emotions have real meaning for him.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What is Jason’s most prized possession?

[Susan Vaught] Sunshine’s gold locket. It means more to him than anything other than Sunshine herself.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What are your greatest creative influences?

[Susan Vaught] Life, music, and other people’s brilliant art. Whenever I read a great book, hear a wonderful song, look at an amazing painting or sculpture, watch a good film, or encounter good art in any other format, it inspires me to make more of my own—not copy what I experienced or encountered, but try to come up with something brilliant, beautiful, and lasting, to pass on that gift of inspiration.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What three things do you need in order to write?

[Susan Vaught] A clean house or writing cabin, no distractions, and the exact right song. I absolutely cannot write without good music.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Susan Vaught] Daughter of Smoke and Bone, by Laini Taylor. I reviewed it on my website. I love the originality of the writing, and the flesh-and-blood feel of the characters…even those that don’t exactly have flesh and blood.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  If you had to pick one book that turned you on to reading, which would it be?

[Susan Vaught] John Christopher’s Tripod series. The first book in the series was The White Mountains. I remember falling deeply into that world, into the struggles of those characters. I believe it was the first set of books I read where kids were in real jeopardy, and made a difference.

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?

[Susan Vaught] When I’m not writing, I’m usually working. My day job is at an inpatient psychiatric hospital. I also help tend the many birds and animals on our farm. What I’d like to do—ha. Be at the beach!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]   How can readers connect with you?

[Susan Vaught] Through my website, at www.susanvaught.com . I enjoy hearing from my readers!

[Manga Maniac Cafe]  Thank you!

You can purchase Freaks Like Us from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below.

Review: Shift by Kim Curran

Title:  Shift (Strange Chemistry)

Author:  Kim Curran

Publisher:

Shift (Strange Chemistry) DIGITAL

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

When your average, 16-year old loser, Scott Tyler, meets the beautiful and mysterious Aubrey Jones, he learns he’s not so average after all. He’s a ‘Shifter’. And that means he has the power to undo any decision he’s ever made. At first, he thinks the power to shift is pretty cool. But as his world starts to unravel around him he realises that each time he uses his power, it has consequences; terrible unforeseen consequences. Shifting is going to get him killed. In a world where everything can change with a thought, Scott has to decide where he stands.


Review:

When I discovered that Angry Robot Books would be launching a YA imprint, I was excited to check out the Strange Chemistry line.  Every book under this imprint looks good.  I don’t think there can ever be enough books released with fantasy or sci-fi elements, so I was eager to start digging into the launch titles for Strange Chemistry.    First up for me is Shift; I found this one intriguing because protagonist Scott learns that he is a Shifter, and that he can undo decisions he’s made if they turn out to be bad ones.  It’s like having a non-expiring do-over card, except for those occasional unpleasant consequences.   Yes, you knew there would be consequences for using a power that cool, and after seeing the heartbreaking handiwork of one of his Shifts, he decides that maybe it’s not such a great ability after all. 

I thought the pacing for Shift was great.  I powered quickly through this book, and once I got a few chapters in, I didn’t want to put it down.  I wanted to learn more about Scott’s ability and the world he lived in.  This is a great blend of super-hero comic with equal parts futuristic thriller and murder mystery tossed in for good measure.  There were even a few pages that completely freaked me out and got my heart pounding in fear as Scott got himself into some horrific and scary situations.  For a kid who has no idea what he’s doing, he sure manages to get himself into so much trouble!  Life-threatening trouble, too!  I still can’t believe that he made it to the last page relatively unscathed.  That just proves that luck is just as important as mondo-powerful supernatural abilities.

Scott discovers that he has the power to undo decisions he’s made quite by accident.  He is showing off in front of a bunch of his classmates, and his uncharacteristic flash of bravado is just about to get him killed.  Until he wishes with everything he has that he hadn’t decided to act like a moron.  He’s never been cool, and he never will be cool, even if he completes the dare, so he wonders why he even bothered.  Being a pancake after falling from a utility pole just doesn’t seem worth it.  He regrets that he wanted to impress a pretty girl he’s never seen before, and now it looks like it’s going to be the death of him. 

I loved Scott.  He’s self-depreciating, and once he started getting over himself, he is a fun character.  Thrown into circumstances far beyond his control, he finally starts coming into his own.  As he begins to understand the consequences of  both doing and un-doing his decisions, he begins to accept some the less favorable choices he’s made.  He can no longer blame others for his poor judgment, and that helps to give him the kick in the pants he needs to start growing up.  People can live or die by his actions, and there is no blaming anyone else when he messes up.  Instead, he has to put on his big-boy pants and fix the chaos he’s caused.  He needs to risk himself to save his friends from the harm he has caused them, and this time, a simple shift isn’t going to cut it.  For a big nerd, Scott’s take charge attitude impressed me, and his determined charge to the end of the book kept me completely engaged in the story.

I had some quibbles with Shift, but they weren’t enough to ruin the book for me.  Many of the secondary characters are one-dimensional and yawn inducing stereotypes.  I would have liked more depth to all of the secondary characters.  Overall, though, this is a fun read, and it got me geeked to read more releases from Strange Chemistry.

Grade:  B/B+

Review copy provided by publisher

Interview with Carmen Rodrigues, Author of 34 Pieces of You

Carmen Rodrigues is the author of 34 Pieces of You, an emotionally powerful read that focuses on the aftermath of a popular high school girl’s death.  I could not put this book down, and I was thrilled when Carmen agreed to answer a few of my questions.

[Manga Maniac Café] How did you come up with the concept and the characters for 34 Pieces of You?

[Carmen Rodrigues] 34 PIECES OF YOU actually started as a what if writing prompt. To create the prompt, I let my mind wander for an hour, thinking about all the different situations teens encounter. During that wandering, I remembered a few news stories I read in the late eighties/early nineties about teenagers who made and carried out suicide pacts. I wondered what would happen if two teenagers did make this pact but one of them survived. What kind of guilt would that teen have? Where would life go from there?

This led me to writing about a girl (Sarah) who wakes up in a hospital bed to learn that her best friend (Ellie) has died from an overdose, which she has survived. As I began to discover more about the characters that inhabited this world, I asked myself other questions:

Did Ellie commit suicide or was it an accident?

If suicide, did Sarah also attempt to kill herself?

Regardless of accidental or intentional overdoses, how did these girls get here? What were their communities and families like?

How do toxic friendships, particularly those that develop out of proximity like the relationship between Ellie and Sarah, affect the other kids on that block?

Answering these questions led to a complex story that spanned five years. Around fifty pages in, I realized that the story was inhibited by Sarah’s limited perspective. That’s when I began to write from two additional POVs–Sarah’s younger sister, Jessie, and Ellie’s older brother, Jake. Ellie’s pieces—as they are now–came much later.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What three words best describe Sarah?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Sarah is seventeen years old. She’s doing her best to navigate the broken world she inherited. The three words that describe her are young, confused, and disconnected.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What are three things Jess would never have in her bedroom?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Jess is simple. She has a good heart–one that’s inclined to take care of others. In this novel, she loses the last of her childlike innocence. To me, that’s what makes her story so tragic. She would never have a hair straightener, cigarettes, or high heels in her bedroom. 

[Manga Maniac Cafe] If Jake had a theme song, what would it be?

[Carmen Rodrigues] Break on Through (To The Other Side) by The Doors. Jake loosely references this song in the novel. If you check out the lyrics, you’ll see that it accurately sums up many of his struggles. Here is the opening stanza:

You know the day destroys the night 
Night divides the day 
Tried to run 
Tried to hide 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side 
Break on through to the other side, yeah

At the end of the novel, though, The Winner Is by Michael Danna and Devotchka conveys the silent hope that is present in Jake’s recovery.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] What is the last book that you read that knocked your socks off?

[Carmen Rodrigues] I’ve read a lot of wonderful young adult novels this year–Fingerprints of You by Kristen-Paige Madonia (gorgeously written); Unbreak My Heart by Melissa Walker (sweet and heartfelt); The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler (smart, funny, relevant)—but the last book to knock my socks off was The Gifts of Imperfection by Brene Brown. It’s a nonfiction book about authenticity, courage, and wholehearted living. The research is compelling. The writing is humorous and sincere. I’ll probably read this book once a year. I recommend it to everyone.

[Manga Maniac Cafe] How can readers connect with you?

[Carmen Rodrigues] The best place to find me is at my web site: www.carmenrodrigues.com.

From there, you can access my Goodreads, Twitter, and Facebook profiles. Plus, you can read the first 36 pages of 34 PIECES OF YOU.  For a visual/interactive experience of 34 PIECES OF YOU, visit www.pinterest.com/34piecesofyou.

[Manga Maniac Café]  Thank you!

34 Pieces of You is available now.  You can purchase it from your favorite bookseller or by clicking the widget below. Available in print and digital.

Review: Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti

 

Title: Keep Holding On

Author:  Susane Colasanti

Publisher: Viking

Keep Holding On – DIGITAL

May Contain Spoilers

From Amazon:

Noelle’s life is all about survival. Even her best friend doesn’t know how much she gets bullied, or the ways her mom neglects her. Noelle’s kept so much about her life a secret for so long that when her longtime crush Julian Porter starts paying attention to her, she’s terrified. Surely it’s safer to stay hidden than to risk the pain of a broken heart. But when the bullying of her classmate takes a dramatic turn, Noelle realizes it’s time to stand up for herself – and for the love that keeps her holding on.

Review:

This book brought back a lot of unpleasant memories, and I was going to put it down and return it back to the library unread.  I remember what it was like to be mercilessly picked on in school, and I wasn’t sure that I wanted a refresher course.  I became invested in Noelle’s unhappiness, though, and wondered what she would be able to do to change her circumstances.  In addition to having to deal with bullies at school, she also has a nightmare at home.  Her mother has been raising her alone, and she is resentful of Noelle.  She blames her daughter on her own discontent with her life and her dead end job.  She takes her frustrations out on Noelle, and doesn’t care for her.  There is never enough food in their cramped rental unit, and her mother’s indifferent eats away at her. 

With all of bullying and her mother’s neglect, Noelle feels that she is unlovable.  She finds herself in a relationship with a popular boy who is obviously taking advantage of her.  He has sworn her to secrecy about their clandestine encounters. They spend the entire time making out.  This wasn’t surprising, considering Noelle’s dysfunctional home life.  Conversation isn’t something that happens at her house, so why would she expect to actually talk to the boy she has convinced herself that she’s in love with?

When a cute classmate shows some interest in her, Noelle freaks out.  Yes, she likes Julian, and yes, she’s dreamed of getting together with him, but she won’t kid herself.  Noelle is one of the poorer kids attending her high school, and Julian is from another world.  His parents are wealthy, and she just won’t fit into his life.  Despite her messed up emotions, Noelle did begin to frustrate me here.  Matt was clearly using her, he refused to be seen with her in public, and yet she stubbornly refused to admit to herself that he was taking advantage of her.  Their “relationship” didn’t make her happy; it made her miserable that she had to keep it a secret from even her only friend, and yet she continued down a path that she knew was wrong.  Instead of giving Julian a chance, she turned him down, without even giving him a chance to prove himself to her.  I understood her fear of becoming emotionally involved with a guy she was afraid would break her heart, but I was still disappointed that she refused to even try to be his friend.

I found Noelle easy to relate to.  Her anger and unhappiness pulsed convincingly on every page.  Her tormenting classmates and her mother left her feeling helpless, without any sense of empowerment or self-confidence to help her cope.  To avoid becoming targets themselves, her former friends abandoned her.  She quickly got used to keeping her deepest, most genuine feelings repressed.  How do you continue, day after day, to go on, knowing that nothing is going to get any better?  For Noelle, salvation lies in the future, after she graduates and escapes from her small town.  I understood this, having once felt that way myself.  When you are that unhappy, it’s hard to contemplate that things will ever get better, unless there is a drastic change in your surroundings.  Noelle copes by counting down the days until she graduates, crossing them off on the calendar in her room.  She doesn’t think that her life will begin until after she’s finished with high school and the bullies who make her days nightmarish.  Everything seems so big and insurmountable when you are wrapped up in your own personal misery, and getting through every day is a challenge.  Susane Colasanti’s narration is painfully convincing, so it was not surprising to discover that she was the victim of bullying herself.

Keep Holding On managed to end on an up-beat note, as Noelle does find an inner strength and peace of mind to keep her moving forward.  I wasn’t as convinced by the ending as I was with the rest of the book,  but any other ending would have been a complete downer.  I am glad that Noelle was able to find the tenacity to face each day head on and begin living her life, instead of running away and hiding from it.

Grade:  B

Review copy obtained from my local library