Title: Hold Fast
Author: Blue Balliett
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Publication Date: March 1, 2013
Audience: Ages 8 and up
Summary: The Pearl family-Dashel, Summer, Early, and Jubilation-live in a one room apartment and dream and save for the day when they can have a house. Dash works as a library page sharing with his family his love for words and poetry. He does extra work processing and transporting old books to a book seller to make money for this dream house. From one of these boxes Dash removes The First Book of Rhythms by Langston Hughes, paying a fair price for it to Al, who brings him the boxes. Then one day Dash disappears leaving on the street his notebook of words, his bike, and the groceries. The police treat this as the normal disappearance of an irresponsible man but his family knows something has happened. The next day four masked people break into their apartment, destroying its cheerful order while they take all their books. Early has been reading the Hughes book and the thieves do not realize they have missed it. With the door to their apartment broken and no money, three Pearls are forced to move to a homeless shelter where such things as doing laundry, making a phone call, finding privacy, and taking a bath are continuous challenges. Colds and flu love shelters. Early finds help from one of Dash’s favorite high school teachers and returns to the library to investigate his disappearance. The First Book of Rhythms has a part in the solution of this mystery. Resourceful Early starts a campaign to reclaim abandoned houses for the homeless before Dash finally returns to them.
Literary elements at work in the story: The author and her characters are in love with words-definitions, etymology, a table of contents of single syllable words, and poetry demonstrate their importance. It’s a suspenseful mystery with characters that claim respect and attention. Page layout is part of the books charm. The book’s title, Hold Fast, comes from a Hughes’ poem, “Dreams.”
How does the perspective on gender/race/culture/economics/ability make a difference to the story? Poverty is the major character in this story, the context for all the events. Race is not mentioned although the book cover indicates this is an African-American family. Neither Summer nor Dash has more than a high school education but their daily engagement with poetry and words defies the stereotype of poor and ignorant. The reaction of the police and the community to Dash’s disappearance was a stereotypical response to the disappearance of a poor black man and discouraged any effort to find Dash.
Theological Conversation Partners: Hold Fast , in addition to entertaining the reader, will do two things: it will present a vivid picture of life in a homeless shelter and it will introduce her/him to the poetry of Langston Hughes. Balliett says that at the close of the school year in 2012 there were 30,000 homeless children in Chicago. She suggests that you count out 30 pennies; pretend each has a name; now make 1,000 groups of 30. It makes homelessness come to life. One missed pay check makes life in a shelter the only option. This story is about a strong family that survives. The family goes to church about twice a year, Early, the daughter volunteers; actually this is no indication of faith. Hughes’ The First Book of Rhythms functions as their Bible and his poems about dreams keep Early’s hopes alive. But this is a story that Christians should read for it will open the world of homelessness to us and will highlight the wonder of words for those who believe “In the beginning was the WORD.”
Faith Talk Questions:
- The author tells us that the most treasured things the Pearl family owned were invisible. What were some of them? What are the most treasured things that your family owns that are invisible?
- What impression do you have of the Pearl family as you read about them in the first few chapters before Dash disappears.
- Try to imagine what it would be like to have your shelter home destroyed and all income stopped. Where would you go? What would you do?
- What are some difficulties with living in a shelter?
- Sum and Early find kind and helpful people in different situations through this story. Who are they? Where are they? How do they help?
- Early finds Langston Hughes’ emphasis on rhythms comforting. How did it affect her feeling about the shelter?
- Who are friends that Jubie and Early make at the Helping Hand Shelter? What are some of the problems with making friends there?
- What do Hughes’ dream poems prompt Early to do?
- How do the students at the new school accept children from the shelter?
- Is there a homeless shelter in your community? What do you know about it. Does your church help to support it? Do you know the number of homeless people in your community?
- What responsibilities do Christians have for families who are homeless?
This review was written by regular contributor Virginia Thomas.
Hold Fast by Storypath is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.