Hold Still by Lynn Steger Strong
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Maya is an English professor (her specialty is Woolf) dealing with her daughter Ellie's drug addiction and general disinterest with life. The daughter of two college professors, Ellie has never lived up to her familial expectations. Instead, she's drifting, experimenting, and causing her mother great angst. So Maya sends Ellie to Florida, to stay with her friend, Annie and her family: husband Stephen and five-year-old son, Jack. Annie is having her own issues with Jack and looking for some help. But Maya doesn't tell her friend all of Ellie's woes. Then one day, disaster strikes on Ellie's watch, and things will never be the same again. Now, both Ellie and Maya must confront the aftermath of their actions.
This was an interesting book. It's told in chapters that alternate between Ellie's perspective and Maya's; they also alternate in time: before the event and after. The before chapters lead right up to said event. You know generally what has happened, but not how, so it's surprisingly suspenseful for a book that's mainly about emotions and feelings. As such, the novel conveys a stressful tension immediately. It also does an excellent job of delving into the frightening ramifications of becoming a parent. How much do we influence what our kids become? We see Maya--herself so influenced by her own family situation--and then realize her own effects on Ellie. It's startling and humbling.
However, there is a little bit of a "been there, done that" feeling when reading, of experiencing yet another novel of well-off New York parents screwing up their kids. Neither Maya nor Ellie are really likable in any capacity, and while that's not a problem per se, they are harder to relate to than one would think. (Also not likable: her husband. I felt great sympathy for the younger son, Ben.) There were moments I found myself drawn to Maya, but overall, she was too distant and too horrible to really feel any connection to whatsoever. That fact that she's nearly as immature as her daughter was perhaps the point, but I'm not sure it was one I enjoyed or felt was worth making. Also, the plotlines related to Maya's teaching assistant and other friends seem odd and inserted into the story at times.
Still, it was a well-written novel and the somewhat parallel storylines of a lost and drifting mother and daughter were well-done. I'm not sure about the ending, though. In fact, for a good part of the book, I found myself wondering more about Maya's friend, Annie. I think her story might have been one I would have enjoyed more. Overall, the novel certainly makes you feel and the parenting elements resonate. But will it stay with me? I don't think so.
I received an ARC of this novel from Netgalley (thank you!); it is available for U.S. publication on 3/21/16.
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