REVIEW: Hold on Tight by Serena Bell
Hold on Tight is a secret baby contemporary but you made it believable and kept the heroine sympathetic while doing so.
Mira Shipley was 18 when she met 20 year old Jake Taylor at a bowling alley. Jake had just finished his training and was one month away from deployment to Afghanistan. He’d been told by his fire team leader not to get attached when on leave – that would only distract him when he was deployed and make it more dangerous for him and his team. Jake is gun-shy about relationships anyway; his mother is an alcoholic and his father is abusive – coping poorly after a work injury left him permanently disabled. To him family is toxic and he doesn’t want to have one of his own. (He has a brother and a sister and appears to get along well with them, so this is not completely true but still, Jake never plans to get married or have children.)
But then he meets Mira and what was going to be a one night fling turned out to be a relationship where they talked and laughed and connected.
Mira was raised by an over-protective father and at 18, she was having a night of rebellion when she met Jake. It was obvious to Jake that Mira was a virgin and he didn’t want to be the guy who pressured a girl so he let her set the pace of their relationship. He also made it clear that it was just for when he was stateside and it all ended when he left for Afghanistan. Nonetheless, feelings developed between the two and one night, a week before Jake is due to leave, she offers Jake sex. It is a bit of a disaster – Mira finds it very painful and Jake stops before much happens. However, before he got the condom on, there was some touching of the relevant body parts and, unbeknown to either of them at the time, it was enough to get Mira pregnant with Sam. After the disastrous sex, Mira confesses she has feelings for Jake. Remembering the advice of his fire team leader and his own resolve not to have a family, Jake says nothing in return – which is answer in itself and they don’t see each other again until they bump into each other eight years later at a physiotherapist’s office.
When Mira realised she was pregnant, she resolved to tell Jake so he could decide how involved he wanted to be. She felt he had a right to know. She tried hard to find him and I think the book does well in showing this was the case and why, for believable reasons, she did not succeed. Nevertheless, she promised herself if she ever did see him, she would tell him straight away. So, that worked for me. It made sense and it wasn’t a situation of Mira withholding anything from Jake or either of them being jerks.
When Mira and Jake do meet again, the reveal isn’t the very first thing out of her mouth but she does tell him promptly, even though it was hard and even though Jake was being a bit of an asshole at the time.
At some unspecified time before they meet, Jake had been in an IED explosion. His best friend had died and he had lost a leg above the knee. It was probably some months, maybe a year before? But if it said in the book, I missed it. Jake has recovered enough that his residual leg (which he calls a stump) has healed well and he’s walking with the aid of a prosthetic. I don’t know how long that all takes but it takes a while I think. In any event, he was not newly injured. He was still deep into rehabilitation however and was learning how to run and keep his balance when he stumbled and how to get to ground level and back up again and all those things that are easier with two legs. He does feel grief and anger at the loss of his leg. He does feel useless. Being a soldier was what defined him and he’s lost that.
He didn’t want any kid to have him for a father. Ex-soldier. Ex-person. A guy, like his own father, who occupied a chair and sucked the life out of a room, out of the world.
But it becomes clear that the thing which is most messing with his head is the death of his friend and what Jake perceives as his responsibility for it. And that is the heart of his loss.
Even when he’d enlisted, he hadn’t known for sure that it would feel like he’d found his purpose. That being a soldier would feel like him. But once he fought, he knew. He was meant for it.
That part of him was dead now, a much neater and keener incision than the mess that the bomb blast had made of his foot and lower leg. He’d lost his sense that there was meaning in what he was doing, his conviction that he was doing the right thing, his willingness to trade lives for lives. The man he’d fought beside was dead, and he would never again be certain that what they’d done was worth what they’d lost.
Mira has recently moved to Seattle to take a job with a company which sells shoes online – she had a passion for art but after falling pregnant, she moved in with her father and stepmother who live in Florida and took online classes to learn how to be a programmer. She created an app which sounds really cool – you take a picture of yourself in an outfit you have, no shoes and then upload the pic and the app will show you how the shoes go with the clothes, making online shopping more customer friendly. Her father has supported her but his love is cloying and Mira feels the need to stand on her own two feet. She wants to be independent and her move to Seattle is all about that. Unfortunately, because reasons, Sam needs childcare and her babysitter has fallen through. She’s already put off starting her job but her new boss has drawn firm line – turn up on Monday or don’t come at all.
When Mira and Jake meet, he thinks he’s a solution to her problem and this gives him something to do and a chance to get to know Sam.
Of all the unexpected emotions he’d felt yesterday in their presence—attraction to Mira, curiosity about Sam—the most unexpected of all had been the pure will he’d felt to claim this new possibility that had presented itself. Jake was so distant from the notion of wanting something that he almost didn’t recognize it at first.
Jake has never been good at trusting his feelings. Emotions like love feel inherently untrustworthy to him. The central conflict between he and Mira once they meet again is that he doesn’t stay. Mira needs to be able to trust him to stick around and Jake’s not confident enough in himself to do it. But the chemistry is there again and he finds himself opening up to her more than anyone, including sharing what happened on the day he was injured.
Jake’s relationship with Sam is great. I thought the child was a little precocious – he seemed to be very advanced in his speech, even though the ideas behind the words are age-appropriate. When Sam wants to race with Jake, Jake tries to run. He finds it awkward but he’s better at it than he thought he would be. Eventually, he goes to a specialist prosthetic maker and gets a running leg, a biking leg and a swimming leg and starts to train for a triathlon (I don’t know how he paid for any of these by the way). Jake is good at running and the theme of him running (both away and to clear his mind) is a repeated motif.
Essentially, Jake had to get his head together before he could consider himself a worthy partner for Mira (and his physical disability was only a part of that). He had to decide whether he was going to try to get back to active service (and if so, this put the kybosh on a relationship because he’d be gone) or if not, what he was going to do instead. And he had to process a lot of things before he was ready to decide anything. I found this believable and understandable. It also made me think the HEA was solid.
Mira, for her part, is concerned that if she relies on Jake she is not being independent. That she would merely be trading her father for Jake, so she is wary about getting into anything serious. But the chemistry and connection they have won’t be denied. I thought Mira’s change of heart made sense and the way she altered her thinking around herself and recognised strengths within herself was positive too. Jake also gives Mira a lot of credit for the job she’s done raising their son and he has great respect for her which helped too but it made Jake seem a little too perfect at times.
Mira is very accepting of Jake and isn’t fazed by his residual leg, but sex is problematic at first and they have to talk their way through what went wrong and make a plan to get it right. This is something that doesn’t come easy for Jake at all but it is the beginning of him “staying”.
I felt like Jake, through the course of the book, came to accept his altered body but also to realise that that he remained very able. My sense was that the disability was neither here nor there for Mira or Sam, and by the end of the book, Jake had adapted so that his disability was a thing he had to manage but not something which ruled his life. That seemed realistic to me.
I thought the ending was a little saccharine and in some respects undid some of the good work you had done not romanticising Jake’s disability – because it felt a little Lifetime movie-ish, especially Mira’s “project”.
I was engaged and entertained and glad to see Mira and Jake and Sam get their HEA. Grade: B.