holding on to zoe

Holding on to Zoe by George Ella Lyon

16-year-old Jules left home and started working at a Toyota factory once her baby Zoe was born.  The facility offered free baby care and a small apartment for them to live in together.  But her best friend and mother don’t seem to be accepting Zoe at all.  It’s almost as if they’d be happy to Jules just forgot about her baby altogether.  But Jules is determined to be a good mother to this perfect little baby.  It means that she has to juggle a lot of responsibilities and even more when she heads back to high school.  When she is forced to leave Toyota and return to living with her mother, things reach a crisis.  Throughout the book readers will piece together what is true in Jules’ life and what is not.  This is a credible and disturbing book about teen pregnancy and mental illness.

In reading others’ reviews of this book, I found that many had responded negatively to the book.  It is a unique mixture of teen pregnancy book in the beginning and mental illness in the end.  The mental illness portion comes slowly and readers will see tentacles of it early in the book if they look for them.  Jules’ pregnancy is handled honestly with both the baby’s father and Jules’ mother responding negatively to the news.  There is a beautiful sensitivity to the entire work that makes it poignant.

Jules is a protagonist with real issues.  As she struggles, the characters around her become all the more human.  Her mother moves from being a rather shadowy figure of doubt to someone who cares deeply and is unable to show her emotions.  Jules’ best friend Reba also shows her true colors as Jules struggles on.  Reba refuses to play along with Jules insisting that she see the truth. 

This book is sensitive, real and tragic.  It is an issue book that changes issues as the story continues, something that is unique and fascinating.  Appropriate for ages 16-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Farrar Straus Giroux.