Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book Review: HOLD FAST

Dash Pearl loves words and puzzles, and he has passed this passion on to his daughter Early and son Jubilation.  He often comes home with riddles, rhymes and interesting stories to entertain Early and Jubie.  Though Dash can barely support his wife and children with his meager salary as a page in the Chicago Public Library System, he has big dreams that his family can one day move out of their one room apartment and into their own home.  When a mysterious man offers Dash a second job selling used books out of the Pearl family’s apartment, Dash quickly accepts.  Early is suspicious of her father’s new high paying work, but she cannot image that her father would be doing anything wrong.  However, when Dash disappears, his wife Summer fears that something terrible has happened to him and it must be connected to his second job.  The police believe Dash is involved in criminal activity and has abandoned his family. 

The Pearls face more misfortune when masked men break into their apartment, take all of their valuables, and smash everything that is left.  Without money or an income, Summer has no choice but to take her family to Helping Hand Shelter.  The Pearls quickly learn how difficult life in a homeless shelter can be.  The lack of privacy, long lines, and constant illnesses in the shelter wear on the family.  Early knows that her father would never purposely leave them or break the law.  If she can just figure out the clues Dash left behind, she can find her father and clear his name.   Then the family can get back to working on fulfilling their dreams.

Blue Balliett’s new novel does an excellent job of illustrating the hardships of the working poor and the homeless. Hold Fast shows how crippling these hardships can be for children.  Early is the target of ridicule at school because her peers know where she is living, Jubie becomes sick from the illnesses spread at the shelter, and it seems impossible for Summer to find a job without decent day care options for her son.  Despite all the wonderful services Helping Hand offers, the Pearls would be stuck in this shelter without the support of Dash.  The reader wants the Pearls to succeed, and Balliet’s novel would surely lead to more empathy for the homeless. 

Though the Pearl family’s story is very compelling, the mystery in Hold Fast is not.  Early’s investigation is a dry read, and Balliet takes the last thirty pages of the novel to explain what happened to Dash.  I’ve had trouble selling students on Balliet’s novels, and I fear I will experience the same problems with Hold Fast.  As a former teacher, Balliet wants to incorporate poetry and math into her stories, which is laudable, but the result is often laborious for readers.

3.5 out of 5 Stars
Grades 5 and up

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