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Monday, August 27, 2012

Holding On to Zoe, written by George Ella Lyon. Margaret Ferguson, Farrar Straus Giroux, Douglas & McIntyre. 2012. $19.99 ages 14 and up

"She is concentrating the energy that signals my heart. She holds me in this light. After a little bit Emma asks about my family, about school. It's easier to talk now. When I get to the part about Dad leaving, my voice gets husky and my throat hurts. "Tears are good," Emma says. "Just let them come." I shake my head. Mom hates tears. They aren't worth it."

I barreled through this short, and powerful, novel about Jules and her family, her friends and her struggle with past events. George Ella Lyon is a strong writer and she kept me turning pages, wanting to know if Jules would get the help she needed and giving voice to a sympathetic and memorable young woman.

It begins in the Toyota factory where Jules is working to earn money to enable her to care for her baby daughter, Zoe. It isn't long until the reader begins to understand that Jules' reality is skewed. Then, we step back in time to help us see how Jules got to this point.

When she tells her boyfriend that she is pregnant, he is quick to abandon her for his dream of making music and travelling the world. When she tells her mother, she refuses to believe her. When she tells her best friend, she encourages an abortion. Jules will not hear of it. A trip to her family doctor reveals a problem, and the rest of the story follows Jules' inability to accept the news he relays. Following surgery, she has a breakdown and imagines a life with her baby; caring for her, keeping her safe and ensuring that she is always there for her. It is heartbreaking as the reader realizes that nothing is as it seems.

Luckily, Jules comes under the care of a mental health care professional who has the skills to help her find the root cause of her dependence on this imaginary baby. She is able to get to the pain that Jules has never let surface. She helps her accept that Zoe is not real, and begin healing from a very early trauma. Her defences have been strong and protective, but her precarious hold on  life's events finally crashes, and Jules must deal with the aftermath. We know that she has wonderful support from her best friend Reba and her family, her now sorrowful mother and her understanding and skilled new doctor.

In a longer book, the characters may have been fleshed out further. But, let's remember the audience and the impact this story will have on them. There may be a future story for Jules, her family and friends. I hope so. Jules has a long road to travel before she can deal with all of the issues here portrayed; hopefully, she is on the right track.

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