By Blue Balliett
288 pages, $17.99
ages 8 and up
With her newest novel, Blue Balliett warms the heart, even as she's breaking it.
Hold Fast is the story of a family striving for something better. Dashel Pearl works as a page in the Chicago Public Library. He and his family – wife Summer, daughter Early, young son Jubilation – live in the biggest apartment they can afford, one room in a former gang neighborhood. But they have their eye on a home like the pretty two-story house in their neighborhood. That's what Dash is working toward.
They hold fast to the dream, but their tiny apartment is warm and cheerful. And they all share a love for words and the rhythms of Langston Hughes ("Hold fast to dreams ...).
It's a happy life and a happy family – until the day Dash disappears. He's not the type to run out on his family and we soon find out that there's mystery and criminal activity involved. A scary event takes place and the family is forced into the shelter system.
Summer becomes more wrecked as the weeks mount that Dash is missing. Jubie's only 5. So it falls to Early Pearl to use her brains, heart and resourcefulness to try and save her family – and maybe some other homeless kids in the process.
Balliett's writing is nearly poetic, but the pace of the story never lags either. There's enough mystery and excitement to keep kids reading. There's also enough reality to teach them a a bit about how some families struggle or to resonate with those in similar situations. A little education on words and Langston Hughes is an added bonus.