Early lives in a tiny apartment in Chicago with her mom, dad, and little brother. They’re a happy little unit they call Dashsumearlyjubie, and they thrive on words, reading, and being together. Dash, the father, works at the public library just as a page but has a plan to get a college degree and become a full-time librarian. Dash, though, runs into some trouble when he gets involved in an extra job processing used books, and one day he disappears.
His family knows something is terribly wrong, and they’re sure of it a few weeks later when several masked people break into their apartment, threaten them, and steal important items and ransack their home.
Still, the police don’t take their situation seriously, and even worse, they eventually begin to think Dash is a suspect in a crime. On top of everything else, Early and her mom and brother end up homeless, with almost nothing to their names, except for a book by Langston Hughes they treasure, and which might actually end up offering some clues to solve the mystery of Dash’s disappearance.
Hold Fast is a book for young readers that is similar to Balliett’s other books, such as Chasing Vermeer and The Calder Game, that follow young characters who must solve mysteries with imagination and out-of-the-box thinking. This one, however, in addition to introducing readers to an artist, in this case Langston Hughes, also helps young people (and older ones as well) get a better understanding of families who are homeless. In less capable hands, the moral could too easily get overbearing and preachy, and at times I feared it might veer that way, but Balliett does such a fine job building characters and a story that are worth reading that the moral about needing to have more care and empathy for those who are homeless isn’t obnoxious; it’s enlightening.
Even better, Balliett continues to do what she does so brilliantly: she invites readers in to her world of creativity, imagination, and love of language. She and her characters have such adoration for words and letters and what they sound like and do that readers can’t help but be carried right along with them. Few writers have such a gift, and I would recommend that everyone, middle-grade or adult, give themselves the treat of enjoying at least one of Blue Balliett’s books.
Rated: Mild, for young readers, for a couple of instances of mild language and a couple of tense situations.