After my recent round of waterworks,* I felt I was entitled to something light and romantic and adorable. So I picked up Susane Colasanti’s Keep Holding On.

Read more new and notable books for teens this May.

Sure, I thought, the title sounds a tad foreboding, but look at the cover! The girl is smiling! She’s standing all aw-shucks-like in her distressed jeans and doodled-on Cons! Clearly the boy is a Good Egg. He has glasses! And a star on his messenger bag!** Right?

Sigh. Welcome to another exciting round of Cover Art Bait-and-Switch.*** Rather than a nice little romance, Keep Holding On is about girl who’s been horribly bullied for years. Whose own mother hates her. Who is so poor that she eats mayonnaise-and-lettuce sandwiches for lunch. Who is so desperate for affection that she’s sexually involved with a boy who clearly doesn’t give a flip about her. Also (I know, right?), her best—and only—friend is dealing with the aftermath of a sexual assault.

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Is bullying an important issue, relevant to the target audience? Of course. Are child abuse/neglect, rape, depression, poverty and teen suicide also important? Duh, yes. Are the messages that Keep Holding On promotes—hope and survival—things that teens need to hear? Of course. So although the storyline was a surprise, I could have easily gotten past that if the book had been, well, better.

But, no. Keep Holding On hit the Issue Novel Triumvirate:

  1. Do the messages overpower the story? Yes.
  2. Does the method of imparting said messages come off as preachy? Yes.
  3. Do the characters come off as less-than fully drawn—both in personality and action—due to the issues being front and center? Yes.

There are positives. Noelle’s frustrations with the adults in her life—who are almost all either abusive or oblivious—ring true. Despite the book’s flaws, some younger readers will find it comforting to know that someone else feels the same way that they do, that they aren’t alone. I can easily imagine that some of the dialogue—which reads like the characters are channeling the author, rather than like the author is channeling the characters—may help young readers put their own emotions into words.

No, the book didn’t do it for me. My 35-year-old self couldn’t get past the didacticism, the Afterschool Special dialogue or the two-dimensional characters. That said, I very much suspect that my 13-year-old self—who, in addition to being miserable and lonely, was far less picky about her reading material—would have found Keep Holding On extremely encouraging.

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*Actually, I had another one today...about a book I read a year ago. (Don’t let that scare you off, though. It’s so good.)

**I showed the cover to my boss and asked her what it suggested to her. She said, “Generic high school romance. But the guy looks domineering.” Which, hilariously, is one of the few issues that didn’t factor into the storyline.

***See last week’s round here.

Let's be honest. If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is most likely being tragically unproductive due to the shiny lure of Pinterest.