I’m suddenly a mountain climber with the ability to jump and cling to rocky walls without an ounce of fear — but then I hear the subway train conductor announce my stop, and I'm a commuter again, lost in an incredible book. It wasn’t difficult to get swept up in the world of The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, the debut novel from Kristin Bartley Lenz.
The novel is about a competitive climber named Cara Jenkins, who begins her story in Ecuador for a mountain climbing competition. While Cara’s competing, her parents and Uncle Max are attempting to climb a dangerous mountain. She doesn't know that a tragedy is about to change her world forever. An unfortunate accident sends her to Detroit, Michigan, where her grandparents live and a normal high school life awaits. No more mountains. No more expeditions.
This beautifully written YA novel details how difficult it can be to let go of the past, embrace the present, and make peace with an uncertain future. While I’m no competitive climber (or a competitive person, for that manner!) this book taught me some valuable life lessons. If you're looking for an exciting and unique YA novel to add to your TBR list, put this book on the tippy top. If you need further convincing, here are a few things I learned from this book (spoiler free!):
1. Parents Certainly Aren't Perfect
You've probably figured this out by now, but it's always worth the reminder. Cara's parents certainly aren't perfect, even if they are record-breaking, poetry-reciting mountaineers. I think most kids view their parents as perfect. But as you grow little older, you begin to realize they're human beings — just like the rest of us. This isn't a bad thing. Putting your parents up on a pedestal isn't fair to them... or you.
2. The Definition Of Home Is Fluid
This book is all about transition, change, and leaving the place you once called home. As someone who moved far away from my childhood home, I'm learning to embrace this idea. It's not easy establishing roots and making friends in a new place, and Lenz captures every single piece of that uncertainty in this novel.
3. Chasing Your Dreams Isn't Selfish, Even If It Means Leaving People Behind
It sounds pretty selfish, and writing that out made me second guess myself — but it's true. You have one life to live, and you can't always control which direction it'll take you. Cara initially views her parents as incredibly selfish, but as time passes, she begins to see them in a new light. People will let you down, life won't make much sense all the time. But you should never feel guilty for trying to understand your life, yourself, and the world around you.
4. Losing Someone You Love Means Losing A Part Of Yourself
If you've ever lost someone close to you, then you know how hard it is to move on. Grief is a very personal experience. You lose a part of yourself. Cara must learn that though grief doesn't always make sense in the moment, there's clarity in the future. Grief is complex, and this novel describes the process beautifully.
5. Opening Up To Friends Takes Time, And There's Nothing Wrong With That
When Cara begins to settle into her new life in Detroit, it takes quite a while for her to bring up anything personal with her new friends. She's not hiding it, but she's not ready to talk about it either. As a slow-bloomer myself, I could easily relate to Cara's struggle to connect with new friends without revealing personal information sooner than she was comfortable.
6. Learning About Your Family's Past Will Benefit You For Years To Come
When Cara begins to understand her family better, she begins to understand herself better, too. Family history is important, and it impacts our lives in more ways than we know.
7. Letting Go Doesn't Mean Giving Up
This. Is. So. Important. Whether it's moving on from a personal loss, a breakup, a monumental change that altered your life in more ways than one — just because you're letting go of the past doesn't mean your giving up. It sounds simple, but making the decision to let go of something that's weighing you down can be scary. Letting go is an art — just as the title of Lenz book suggests — and I think this story does an excellent job at showing how letting go can be the key to living a better life.
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