When I got around to reading Catcher in the Rye, I was already 23-ish, and I kind of hated it. But really I had the sense that I was reading it too late in life; that you can get a lot more out of it if you read it as a teenager. All those feelings of rage and isolation are so much more relateable.
I say this because while I enjoyed Holding Still, I feel like I might have enjoyed it a lot more had I read it about five years ago; and I would be hesitant to recommend it to anyone who is not in their early twenties. It captures so perfectly the feelings of those years, at least for a specific set of twenty-somethings: the drama, the sexual exploration, the sometimes self-imposed poverty, the longing to connect to something bigger than oneself.
The characters in Whittall's novel live in the neighbourhoods my friends and I live in; the downtown Toronto neighbourhoods that consist of gorgeous old buildings divided into apartments, secret gems in areas that are rapidly turning into condo forests. Gentrification is an ever-present background character in this story.
The story itself is more like a bunch of stuff that happens in the lives of some people. It's interesting and engaging, but not totally traditionally story-shaped. People get together, break up, hang out, think about going to class or work or back home to visit their parents. All the characters seem to have a very fluid sexuality, which is really cool; gender identity does not appear to be a barrier to any of their relationships. They communicate through text messages and hang out at odd hours of the night. They probably don't think that they are hipsters. Every one of them seems like someone I know.
What I really liked was how Whittall dealt with her trans character; it came up at the beginning that he was trans, and then it was not mentioned again. He had a regular life like every other character. This is positive representation: when it's not such a big fucking deal. I liked it very, very much.
The city was used well as a backdrop to the story, and I always really like reading scenes set in places that I know. The Drake came up, and the Beaver Cafe (super cool since I know a guy who works there). One pivotal scene takes place at an intersection about two blocks from my place. One character who is a paramedic works out of Toronto Western Hospital. Very very cool.
I did like the book a lot; I just found it hard to get emotionally invested in characters with problems that I already probably spent too much time and energy on in my own life just a few years ago. I do highly recommend it for people in the 19-24 age range, especially those looking to read about non-hetero people who have regular person problems and aren't tokens or designated sidekicks.
I give it three out of five CN towers.