Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Keep Holding On by Susane Colasanti

Keep Holding On, Susane Colasanti.  New York: Viking (Penguin Group), 2012.  HC.  202 pps.

Keep Holding On is written from the viewpoint of Noelle, a junior in high school and the child of a single mother.  Noelle's mother reminded me of my own mother.  Like my mother, Noelle's mother was guilty of neglect, had a temper and unpredictable moods, had sudden bursts of rule-making and expectations that would be unreasonable ones for any teen to have to follow.  My mother always liked to claim poverty.  Noelle and her mother were actually poor.

There was one scene in a supermarket in which Noelle's mother was paying with Food Stamps.  The cashier immediately yelled for assistance from a manager with the words, "Food Stamps!"  There was a time several decades ago when cashiers at the local supermarket queried every customer, "Cash or food stamps?"  I had decided not to be ashamed of myself for needing food stamps on a temporary basis at that point in my life.  When it was my turn, I said, "I'm paying with Food Stamps."  Loudly.  Back then, a few people in line would inspect the shopping carts of people who used Food Stamps, frowning at any food choices that didn't meet their muster as worthy.  As if it were their business.  I learned to catch their eye and pointedly looked into their shopping carts while also frowning.  Turning things around like that was kind of fun.  And it saved me from accepting any real or perceived societal judgments.

Noelle was being bullied in school and outside of school.  She was tapped for the school litmag.  She said yes only to escape the tortures of the school cafeteria where her meager lunches consisted of lettuce or mayo and mustard sandwiches.  She sat alone in the cafeteria.  At the litmag office, Simon brought in food "for everyone."  Simon was a bit of an outcast himself because he was adjudged  "different" but he didn't care.  I couldn't help but like this fictional character, even more than many of the others in the book.

There was also Ali-- the classmate who killed herself, a best friend Sharai, boys into date rape who were busy acting like they weren't jerks, a school nurse, and a school social worker.

At the end of the book, Noelle got a cool popular guy, Sharae got Simon, and Noelle's mother reformed.  The reformation of Noelle's mother into caring single mom after one conversation with the school social worker was not convincing.

sapphoq reviews says: Besides the scripted conversations, this book suffered from delivering its' message of teen abstinence with a bit of a heavy hand.  Noelle's mother who had gotten pregnant young suffered from poverty and hopelessness.  Although at one time she had a live-in man who treated both her and Noelle well, her neglect started after his death when because they weren't married, his house and money went to a brother.  To me, this points to the necessity of a will for couples who aren't married (or aren't allowed legal recognition for their commitment i.e. same gendered couples) rather than to the message, "Living together is bad, m'kay."  

I am not against the message of teen abstinence.  I myself didn't need my parents or my school to tell me not to have sex.  I knew that if I had gotten pregnant, my dad would have "killed" me.  My father never said anything like that to me.  I just knew.  To be sure, I also knew all about birth  control.  Some of my classmates were using it.  What is a sham is the health educator in a public school not being allowed to talk about issues like contraceptives along with abstinence, homosexuality and bisexuality [yes, there are teens in high school who are fully aware that they themselves aren't straight], and AIDS to their teen health classes.  These topics came up back when I was in school because we were curious.  I'm pretty sure these topics still do.  

More horrifying is when speakers from AIDS organizations come in to the high school classroom and aren't allowed to mention rubbers. More so when an organization goes into Africa-- 80% of kids orphaned due to parents dieing from AIDS live in Africa-- and is mandated not to tell married adults that rubbers can prevent the transmission of AIDS, there is something seriously wrong.  

In an ideal world, sex happens between two adults in a committed relationship.  But this is far from an ideal world.  Kids and teens get raped.  Teens have sex. Teens get pregnant. AIDS is an epidemic which kills off some of our best and brightest and most creative people. 

Keep Holding On is a good book to let teens whose reading levels are sub-par know that bullying has an ending.  Keep Holding On, similar to Go Ask Alice in 1971, has a weakness via its' subtext.  Single motherhood, like divorce, happens.  Kids who grow up with one parent or  are "products" of divorce are not condemned to suffer from poverty, bullying, drugs, violence, parental neglect, or domestic abuse. 

Recommended with hesitation.

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