Reading Time: 12 minutes

In all honesty; as much as I love to write and conjure words with the wand of only pen and paper — I barely read. This was an exception, for the first time in a long time. I was looking for something to relate to, something real and raw – a type that we often yearn for in books but never find, after all — they’re all fantasies, things to long for, to desire — when I wanted something that I could see myself in. Through my search, I had discovered Hold Still by Nina Lacour, and despite going into it without a single amount of hope nor expectation, I came out with a desire to share this book with others. Imperfect and utterly flawed yet powerful and emotional, it stirs something inside of you with how its written and carefully handcrafted.

Described as a riveting tale of a teenage girl dealing with the loss of her friend; the discovery of a journal, the remorse and guilt that comes with it as well as the healing process — this book, although far from perfect was exceedingly real. That is what I look for in pieces of writing, and that is what I love.

Goodreads sums up the book with the following, which is a pretty basic summary that neatly points out the plot in its entirety. There are no plot twists nor unexpected turns; the book is a simple journey through the eyes of a teenage girl who is lost and alone, yet does not close to dare tread down the same path.

Devastating, hopeful, hopeless, playful . . . in words and illustrations, Ingrid left behind a painful farewell in her journal for Caitlin. Now Caitlin is left alone, by loss and by choice, struggling to find renewed hope in the wake of her best friend’s suicide. With the help of family and newfound friends, Caitlin will encounter first love, broaden her horizons, and start to realize that true friendship didn’t die with Ingrid. And the journal which once seemed only to chronicle Ingrid’s descent into depression, becomes the tool by which Caitlin once again reaches out to all those who loved Ingrid—and Caitlin herself.

If it wasn’t obvious enough, the book deals around heavy themes of depression and sorrow – the coping of it to a friend rather than the downspiral, yet in a lighter tone. The agony we see is in the title character reading her friend’s journal entries, and meeting people who do not forgive the world for her death; as she does. Curiously, for the first time I met the theme of depression in a form of writing in a different perspective – yet an obvious one. We see our protagonist coping with her best friend’s death – the only one she had; rather than seeing someone’s descent into the sorrow that is depression before driving them to take their lives. What makes this pleasantly different is that our protagonist remains melancholic for it, and sorrowful – yet she does not spin herself down into the same spiral, or meets a single person and suddenly snaps, as if all her mourning went away with a sudden realization of ‘Oh, the world is still pretty okay and there are new friendships to be made!’ — though it nearly goes down that path. It is a slow and agonizing healing process with lots of swivels, but most importantly; our protagonist does not pin the blame on her best friend, as one should. She does not blame her for taking her own life, call her selfish, wonder why she left her alone, or all that. Instead, she reflects on the things that she could have done while her friend was alive, the memories that they had made and the lasting impact that was brought on to not only her, but dozens of other people that will never let her memory die.

The book is profound, it makes you think and gives you ideas and moments to reflect on your own words – the things that one could do and could have said, like a wake-up call that it isn’t too late, a wake-up call for all the signs that you had seen in another, and I find that aspect of it truly beautiful. The book is a fairly short read – I managed to take it all in within two hours or so, which gives further reason to simply pick it up and see what it has to offer. (Or, download it online like I did, you know.) Within two hours I had cried more than a handful of times, within two hours I was inspired countless times to simply create and see the beauty in the world.

When I say that I revere books that you can see yourself in, I really don’t kid. In this book I saw a glimpse of myself, something that I find pretty rare — and I commend it thoroughly for this. I am sure that countless others would find themselves in the pages here, too. Seemingly distant and reserved due to how we barely know about the characters rather than the tears that they had shed for a lost soul, we still see their actions and thus – their hearts in complacent moments. I at first scoffed, the first few pages did nothing but dramatize an event — until looking deeper shows that no – these words have been experienced, they have been written down, painstakingly – like a memory coming back to life, a memory that unwinds itself and tells something, a story. With that, I look forward to reading more of Nina LaCour’s work, but before that – here is why I recommend it.

Why I Recommend This

If you are looking for a tale that offers an outsider’s perspective on suicide, depression; and all that – this is the one for you. It is not heartbreaking, nor would make you angry – it simply makes you think. This is such a painful and wary subject that can grasp at people’s minds the wrong way, and a single misplaced word can make the whole print go awry; but this book executes itself well. It shows a girl who simply is on a path to recovery, which is sadly erratic and iffy at certain parts – yet redeems itself time and time by how you can see the words flinging themselves into the cast of reality, how these things are truly happening, verbatim to the last dot.

Additionally, the book centers around handwritten journal entries and sketches that are weaved in to different pages. These are written beautifully and feel oddly real – their messages are so succinctly noted down, with ones that are later stricken out with regret and entries that would be reminiscent of what one would write on their very own diaries, before sealing them into bookshelves and hiding them behind notepads. They are written out raw, with no censors or thoughts of closing the ideas down – just words churning out and out, not at all similar to a perfect essay, but just what it is supposed to be – human.

The characters are fleshed out well, you are given them for who they are. There are no extremely sad backstories that are out of this world, but rather – the book shows characters that you would find in an ordinary life, yet are interesting enough by themselves for you to wonder more about them. Next, the book prides itself with a healthy amount of representation – homosexual couples and all that, despite the setting mainly taking place in an upper-class neighborhood. This however, is a good thing! Despite the white picket fence lives that one would consider to be nearly perfect, we are given the fact that sadness hides itself even in the people that you would least expect it from. You are not required to be a tragedy in order to be able to feel sad, it may happen and does happen in almost any person; the book truly shows this and how you would barely expect it, and how people take warning signs and red flags so lightly – simply because they are extremely evident and obtuse nowadays.

For the character who had taken her own life – we see her actions and thoughts in a way that resonates with people who have felt the same thing. Depression and sorrow isn’t always sitting in your room all the time and never getting out of bed, sometimes it is losing yourself in the thoughts of another person and just wishing that they would come to you – to pick you up and solve all of your problems in an instant despite it never happening. Depression isn’t being visibly lonely and hollow, everyone wondering if you are okay when you wear long-sleeved shirts and hide your scars. Sometimes it’s showing your friends your war wounds with a laugh, despite knowing how hard it hurts on the inside. We do not know much about Ingrid, but we do know that what she had felt – the bits of her journey that she had solidified and left in writing and art is something that fogs itself in our everyday lives, yet always lingers and remains.

All in all, I applaud this book and recommend it to anyone who wants a change of scenery in a book that deals with loss, coping, and depression. It is far more raw than a lot of other pieces that I had read, dealing with the same topic — and undeniably, I shed a lot of tears with this book, mostly because of how I could see myself in the words.

Why I Wouldn’t Recommend This

Pacing is a crucial part of a story — without it being done competently and appropriately it marks the road for a story to fracture itself and split into irreparable shards. Although the story predominantly does this well, sometimes the pacing is so awkward that it makes you jump back and forth a few pages – wondering what exactly is happening. Although this isn’t that evident and does not mark itself as a huge factor to turn one away from the book – it’s an unwanted factor, of course. The book itself is a bit slow and then rushed at certain parts, moreso at the ending wherein it seems that the build-up to what a disastrous finale was is done for the sake of it. You could predict the ending coming from the very first page upon seeing the summary, which would be fine in itself if the journey was not awkwardly rushed, or had let go of its realism at certain points for the sake of an endless cry for people to simply move forward.

Despite being earnestly satisfied by the book – I couldn’t help but to be let down by how quickly recovery was, and how cliche it made itself out to be as well. Of course you find change in a girl who breaks all stereotypes and presents herself as dark and mysterious rather than the preppy popular girl who tries to urge you out from the wrong crowd — how new! Though I can’t blame the book that much since stereotypes exist for a reason and have begun for the very same ways – though it’s kind of disappointing and I wish that it could have been done better.

This is a sensitive topic to me, at the very core I didn’t feel irritated by how the topic was dealt with and I can tell that the author must have experienced the main theme closely in order to deal with it in its severity calmly and with soft veneration. Maybe I wasn’t particularly jousted by how the actions simply occurred, but there is so much more to it than that. Undoubtedly this is such a hard topic to pull off perfectly, and the story had redeemed itself by not just showing black-and-white interpretations of the topic or throwing down sad themes over and over again in order to drive us to tears, but I have every right to say that this wasn’t enough, though a big improvement, a huge step-up, sure.

With how the story presents itself and wraps itself up in the course of a little over a year – there is a fear that all you would leave would crumble and crash in that instant. I would dread having to have someone cope in a way so painfully, that they would regret a ton of actions and rethink every single word, reflecting on them in the remnants they have of you. Though I wonder, why is it that the sad have to rewrite their last notes over and over in order to not just offend anybody — why is it that death is treated so calmly and that if they were alive, they would regret their actions and the disastrous impact it leaves on people, the words left on people’s mouths and the utter disrespect for all those who do it. Hold Still makes you wonder about those questions, though the first mentioned one isn’t really a core topic in the book, rather an afterthought.

Perhaps I am just being horribly nitpicky since this is the first book that I had read from start-to-finish in ages, but truly – however you see the ways I pointed out the flaws in the book, do not let it dissuade you from giving it a try. I do not regret reading the book – yet I still long to find the perfect one that near-flawlessly deals with how I feel, that near-flawlessly resonates to me with every single paragraph and ink spilled on the cover, with the flyleafs knotting in the classic new book scent.

After-Reading Thoughts

Yes, my disappointment and sadness for how quickly the issue seemed to resolve itself still drifts and remains a herestay in all my afterthoughts – how disgusting of it to end so unamply. Nevertheless, there are so many thoughts or rather – afterthoughts that had been provoked within my course of reading Hold Still. Again, there is a chance that this stems from how little I actually read and now that my mind has been stimulated by something of substance, there is so much whirring around – but truly; the book holds a lot of unanswered questions. We realize that it is imperfect, as each character is, and how they are still hidden and mysterious.

I firstly think that if I were given a chance to read more about the characters that I would choose otherwise. They are one-dimensional, stereotypical, and shallow. The only thing interesting about seeing filthy rich teenagers living in a suburban neighborhood with everything attending to their desires is to see how sadness manifests itself so similarly in people that appear so distant from our own selves. Rather than that – what else is there to them? The main two characters are good at photography, they sneak into a room because their school has more money than they can make do with and are blessed with an abundance of photography equipment to take photos that are described in a way that makes them seem like shit – and this girl is good at writing and art but too bad she had passed away and oh her best friend is a carpenter, and suddenly builds a treehouse despite only having built a stepladder in a summer camp years before. That’s interesting, but hey – carpentry is a sort of hobby that you don’t read about often so that is certainly a somewhat nice change of scenery from the usual painting, sports and other hip new activity.

If the characters could be any more asinine or boring to read about, then I would have dropped the book. It is one thing to keep things raw and real, yet another to make every single entity speak with the same substance. I worry that if I went back into the book and set a search for how many times “okay” was used, the number would probably be close to a hundred — it seriously seemed like almost every single conversation ended with that chime. Not every single character has to be a socialite that blooms from interaction, but it’s a bit underwhelming to be pleased with how real conversations feel and how awkward they present themselves (like real life!) only for each exchange between characters to be the exact same thing. I guess this could be shoved into the reasons why I wouldn’t recommend the book – but honestly, I only thought about it post-reading. It seemed pretty alright during the book, perhaps I wasn’t too attentive but I didn’t worry about it that much – it was how real conversations go anyway, they always lack some sort of substance, so to speak. It was just overdone.

I’ll stop being rude about the story and pointing out things that make me angry () and instead offer some post-reading questions that I myself enjoy reflecting on.

  1. Do you think coping after such a loss would be as easy as it was in the book? Why?
  2. Would you prefer to let go of keepsakes and memories in order to symbolically move forward in your life, or keep them around you as a form of motivation? (ie: Let go or hold on to physical objects of importance?)
  3. Do you think the note should have not been addressed?
  4. Do you think Ingrid shouldn’t have placed the heavy burden and weight of her death towards her best friend?
  5. What does the treehouse symbolize to you?
  6. What does the theater symbolize to you?
  7. (Stemming from my previous thought early on) Do you think people should write about how they feel in that very instant, their emotions uncensored and unguarded – or should they rewrite their suicide notes so that no one would be blamed, so that they would practically be sugarcoated so as not to hurt anyone?
  8. Picture yourself in Caitlin’s situation. How would you have handled it?
  9. Picture yourself as Ingrid, before the incident had occurred. Would anything have driven you to stop yourself?
  10. Picture yourself as Ingrid — would you have wanted Caitlin to make a larger effort into stopping the incident from occurring? Do you think she would have been able to stop you?

Another interesting idea that had uprooted to me is the idea of writing down one’s thoughts in general. At your lowest point, try to write down everything you feel in that instant. Continue, go forth and do your best to keep up with it every single day until it feels like a form of an escape, a therapy in which you just let loose words that no one should ever find. When you read it again at another point, the feelings that have occurred will seem so different – perhaps like a stranger had taken over your mind. That’s how I envision it to be like, anyway.

Hopefully you would give this hidden trove of a book a chance, moreso if you feel that the topics and themes are close to your heart – in whatever way you may be experiencing it. You may have a different opinion on the book, how it goes – perhaps you would seethe from it or love it tenderly — but whatever happens; there is an undeniable truth in which the book is real and volatile – it clings on to ordinary people and reaches out to every soul, even more to the ones who deem themselves as a little less than ordinary. This is what happens in every waking day, this is the reality of sadness, embodying itself until it unravels into coping, redemption. I end with this quote from the book, out of the many more striking ones.

dear today,
i spend all of you pretending i’m okay when i’m not, pretending i’m happy when i’m not, pretending about everything to everyone.

Header image’s artwork is from Nina LaCour’s website.

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