REVIEW: Hold by Rachel Davidson Leigh (October 20, 2016); 270 pages. Available from Interlude Press/Duet Books here.
As a poet-turned-fictioneer who is also crazy about crosswords and prone to avalanches of language when emotionally moved, I was drawn immediately to Hold by Rachel Davidson Leigh for its slippery, too-full, deceptively simple title. “Hold” can mean a lot of things—it’s a verb and a noun, and it can mean “grasp” or “detain,” “contain” or “remain secure.” I think, in this novel, it comes to mean all of those.
In simplest terms, this is the love story of high school kids Luke and Eddie. It’s a schoolmates-to-friends-to-boyfriends story at its heart: there are other love interests, dangers, and intervening concerns that threaten to keep them apart, but the reader knows at their first meeting that they belong together.
Luke is a high school student who has just returned to school after a long absence to mourn the death of his younger sister. When he returns, he finds high school life has moved on without him. He also finds a new kid who’s appeared during his absence, Eddie, popular guy, smiler, lacrosse player and—before long—love interest. One thinks of that phrase “to put on hold,” as in, “Luke’s life has been put on hold while he left school and mourned with his family, but now he’s back and trying to get his life un-stopped.”
It’s the not-so-simple terms that really draw on facets of “hold,” though.
For one, Luke discovers that he has the strange power to freeze time and everyone in it—a “hold,” he calls it—and this is in part the story of a teenager discovering his power and figuring out what to do with it. That motif is why, I think, superpower stories are most interesting in teens—it’s a super-magical magnification of what “normal” young folks go through. In fact, there’s lots of lore about powers (like psychokinesis… think Carrie… or werewolfiness… think Ginger Snaps) bubbling up in girls at the advent of menarche (the start of menstruation). Many cultures have histories of sending teens out into the wilderness (my mom used to threaten that, but I think she meant it differently) or staging other coming-of-age rituals (think quinceañera, confirmation, bar/bat mitzvah, sweet 16 celebrations, or even the conferral of voting rights in the U.S. or alcohol-drinking privileges in much of Europe).
What I mean to say is that the moment (teenhood) is fraught, a time we both fear (think of those roving bands of “wilding” teens in the news a few years back) and desire (need I bring up Springstein’s “Glory Days”?). Hold sets itself right down in the middle of that mess: high school kid learns to manage his newly-found superpower while resolving a bully situation (a jerk called Wes), loving his best friends Dee and Marcos despite difficulties (for two, Wes is Dee’s brother and Luke has a crush on Marcos), and struggling into first love with Eddie.
It’s also a story about gossip, and the kind of hold it can have over people (see? there’s that word again). When word spreads that Eddie has a gun (and no spoilers here, but the kid isn’t exactly Capone), things start to really spiral, from whispers and ostracism to real dangers, like cops and more guns and rooftop escapes.
So “hold” is about wanting to grasp onto people (a new love interest, a sister who’s recently died, one’s friends) and grasp onto a moment (the innocence of pre-adulthood, before the fall). It’s about wanting to remain secure at a moment when everything seems to be shifting, and when guns start rumbling around the edges of the plot. It’s about the desire for detention (for holding back) and the desire for containment (for being held), for safety and for everything to just slow down and let me catch up already.
It’s a nicely complex story that’s still easy to follow and easy to get sucked into. I tore through this one almost nonstop, because I loved the world so. I’d decide to read a bit, and when I looked up, hours had somehow passed and my dogs were doing the Pee Dance and yelping to be taken out already. It was almost as if time had stopped, and I got to keep reading while the rest of the world was on hold.