Hold Tight

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When I learned about this book i was very interested in reading it for myself but I also felt an instant responsibility, even before I'd read it, to share it with my book club friends. Book club is a social group but it's also a group that introduces new ideas, shares new perspectives and opens our minds. And what better thing to expand our minds about than protecting our children.

True story: I used to go to a church with a lady who had two kids, good kids, about the same ages as mine. They moved to a snowy state. One night their daughter and her friends were sleeping over at my church friend's house. The girls were in the bedroom, not causing any trouble, and the parents were asleep. A few hours later my friend answered her door to a policeman informing her that the daughter had died in a car accident. What a shock because she truly believed the girls were asleep in the bedroom. Turns out the girls had received a text from a friend who's car had gotten stuck in the snow so, being good and helpful kids - they went to help. Driving at night in the snow they had an accident and the girl died. And this was a really good kid! Had her parents known what she was up to they probably would've prevented it. From that day on there is a rule in my house that all the teenager's electronic devices are not in their rooms overnight.

When my oldest son was a teen that rule was rather challenging to enforce because he had a nasty habit of borrowing friends' devices. If I didn't know he had it I couldn't expect it to be parked in the kitchen overnight. One day I let him use my PC to check his email and he didn't log out so I poked around and discovered he'd been emailing in the middle of the night. Not only was the content troublesome (I realized he was being less than gentlemanly with multiple ladies) but I also had the concern that he wasn't getting a good night's sleep. So then we had to get more vigilant about checking for electronics which naturally was not a welcomed activity by the teen. I also got into the habit of unplugging the internet connection at night. And eventually we got him through and he's now a self-sufficient young man.

On a scale of 1 - 5:

Sex: 3

Religion: 1

Gruesome: 4

Suspense: 2

Morality: 3

Sex - Creationism vs. Evolutionism discussion in a bar, crude joking about male anatomy sizes (p. 33) Discussion about teenage boys looking at online porn. Minor lude reference to part of the My Favorite Things (Sound of Music) song. A passing mention of not having sexual fantasies about a boss. Two young girls find condoms in a father's drawer and briefly contemplate if the dad is having sex with his girlfriend, who they suspect slept over the night before. A wife tried briefly to initiate with her husband but her turns her down. Brief reference to guys being turned on by manly talk - mostly in jest during an interrogation. Very high level description of a rape (p. 421).

Religion - I don't recall any references either way

Gruesome - details about a calculated beating of a woman - leading to death, more bones than blood. A fight in an alley - description is more painful than bloody. Foreshadowing gun violence when little girls handle a father's gun. Girl imagines killing her teacher. Quick Columbine reference. Brief, high level stabbing.

Suspense - even though it is a police drama, it wasn't overly suspenseful - I could still sleep at night

Morality - While one of the criminals does contemplate the larger picture, the book is not too preachy, just thought provoking.

Right from the Author's Note this book is gripping and engaging; telling us that all the software and equipment discussed in the book are publicly available. Even though the book is modern, anything with tech gets outdated fast. Like bothering to describe all the things that could be done on a Blackberry Pearl.

Immediately Chapter One had me wondering who Marianne was, why she was so sad, what she'd screwed up and how she was going to get out of it all. Plus the fascinating twist on creationism vs. evolution.

And then Chapter Two spins in a completely different and resonating direction. For me it was a role reversal to read the mom (Tia) being tough about checking on the kid and the dad (Mike) wanting to give him the benefit of the doubt - but regardless there were so many good points being made it was like watching a championship sporting match.

The next chapters show us Tia and Mike as individuals in their careers and with their friends. This is the point in a movie when my facial-recognition challenged brain starts to wonder if the people are the same that were in the previous scene. Thankfully the book employs written names so I only had minimal confusion.

In Chapter Three there's another interesting conversation, this time about feminism. When Tia is called into her bosses office her boss says,

"You chose this firm because it is run by a feminist. You figured that I'd understand why you'd take years off to raise your kids. ... But see, feminism isn't about helping a fellow sister. It's about an equal playing field. It's about giving women choices, not guarantees. ... You chose motherhood. That shouldn't punish you. But it shouldn't make you special either. You lost those years in terms of work. You got out of line. You don't just get to cut back in. Equal playing field. So if a guy took off work to raise his kids, he'd be treated the same." (p. 26)

Interesting because: 1 - the author is male, 2 - I'm experiencing such a situation myself. I took five years off to stay home with my youngest and am having a hard time getting back into a job that values my skills.

Reading this book while in between library copies of The Book Thief, narrated by death, I paid a little more attention to Dr. Mike's views on death as his adversary in Chapter Four. Chapter Four was another one chock-full of good points.

Chapter Six switches to the family of the boy (Adam's best friend) who had committed suicide. It had been mentioned a few times but it still took me a minute to make the connection with who they were. I was worried that the character list was growing too long, especially with the Marianne/Nash/Petra line that was still unclear to me. But once I recognized the family I felt okay with it. At the end of Chapter Six we are teased with the mother's realization that Spencer in fact was not alone the night he killed himself. Ooh, I wondered if this would be as interesting as my new favorite show, Twisted.

In Chapter Seven the body of the woman from the first chapter is finally discovered. Perhaps it's not "finally" if you read several pages at a time but at this point I had gotten to page 75 just by squeezing in a couple pages here and there. At the same crime scene there is some mild cursing and a major amount of stereotyping, rather derogatorily. But I did like Chapter Seven for its insight into the medical profession. Dr. Mike expresses awareness that many patients feel like the Doctor is their last hope. He believes doctors should behave like they are worthy of the hopeful feelings the patients have towards them. (Ever been to a doctor who acts like they're too busy for you - too bad they can't all be fictional!) And I like the suggestion that if you want a good recommendation for a doctor - ask what they would do if it were their kid. I learned that tactic many years ago and find it very effective but underutilized.

At the end of Chapter Eight we are teased some more like we were at the end of Chapter Six. At the end of Chapter Eleven more is revealed about the suicide. At the end of Chapter Thirteen we're teased again with more of the mysterious kidnapping plot.

Prior to Chapter Twenty we've see the side of a father and his daughter who was insulted by his teacher. We feel sorry for the girl and see how it affects her socially. In Chapter Twenty we see it from the teacher's side and feel sympathy for him too. I felt bad for disliking the teacher prior to Chapter Twenty.

Just when you think you're done with twists and turns, there's more. As late as page 298 we have doubts about who is reading email on Adam's computer at a time when he was at the dentist.

Chapter Twenty-Eight gets even more curvy with Mike, the missing Adam's father, getting picked up by the FBI for questioning.

With a little over a hundred pages to go it suddenly becomes like a Seinfeld episode - not by way of any sort of comedy but because all the seemingly unrelated and random parts start to converge. In the end I was satisfied with the ending, it wrapped up but in a logical way - not like some books I read that tie everything up extra neatly. I was impressed with Harlan Coben and will definitely consider other books by him in the future.

Discussion Questions

Question: Does it help for doctors and terminally ill patients to view death as an opponent not a process?

Discuss: Mo feels that, "all parents spy on their kids in some ways" such as checking on their grades and that "this isn't a republic. It's a family. You don't have to micromanage but you should have the ability to step in. Knowledge is power. A government can abuse it because they don't have your best interest at heart. [Parents] do." (p. 39)

Discuss: Mike had a casual attitude about Adam watching online porn. He likens it to girly mags of his generation. "It's society today. You can't turn anything on without getting an eye- or earful. If a sixteen-year-old boy wasn't interested in seeing naked women, that would be bizarre." (p. 43)

  • Take morals out of it, is it still a problem?

  • Are pictures on the internet different than in magazines?

  • Can we fight it if it's "society today"?

  • Is it normal teenage boy stuff?

Question: Betsy Hill thinks, "...every house had its share of tragedy. Every house and every family had its secrets." (p. 55) Do you agree? Is there anyone exempt?

Question: In regards to her son's suicide, Betsy feels that everyone wanted to blame her and Ron because that way something like this could never happen to them." (p. 55) Is Betsy being oversensitive? Is that a good way for others to cope?

Question: Betsy's kids ignored her the first time she told them to do anything - it was almost expected to be ignored. Is this a problem for anyone else?

Question: As a mom, how did it feel when you read Spencer's text on page 61? What if that had been from your kid? How would you react? Do you think Spencer waited to see if his mom would reply? How guilty would you feel as a mom for not replying? Do you think it's realistic that a teen would send such a text?

Question: Should Betsey Hill have confronted Adam directly at school or should she have gone through his parents? Is it excusable because she's grieving?

Question: Who was the Yasmin Novak of your childhood? What would you say to them now, if you could?

Question: The title is referenced on page 110 in two instances of Mike with Adam. At four when he told him to "hold tight" to his hand in a crowd but Adam's hand slipped and Mike panicked for a few seconds. And again the previous summer when they rode a roller coaster and Mike told Adam to hold tight (and remembered the first incident). What does the title signify to you?

Question: When Ron tells Betsey he knows she blames him for getting the refill and leaving the pills out Betsey swore she didn't blame him but Ron insisted she did. Does she? Or is Ron just feeling his own guilt? (ref. p. 120)

Discuss: Mike thinks certain females have an unidentifiable attractiveness about them "that made a man a little weak in the knees." (p. 139) He recognizes it in his neighbor Susan and thinks, even though he'd never do anything with it, "if you didn't recognize it for what it was and realize that it was there, it could be even more dangerous." (p. 139) Do you think this idea is widely accepted or the author's male bias showing through?

Discuss: The author told us not once but twice how to pronounce "Baye". Should authors care so much about how readers pronounce the names?

Discuss: When Mike reflected on his father's shooting he thought the anger made him driven to achieve. 'You channeled it or you internalized it." (p. 144) Is it really that cut and dry?

Question: If you spy on your kids, what do you do when you bust them? Is busting them worth busting yourself? (Ref: When Mike used the GPS to track Adam to the party scene he struggled with what his next action should be?)

Question: If you had a magic pass allowing you to tell your teenager one thing and they would listen, believe and take it to heart - what would you say?

Question: When Tia was out of town and worried about Mike, before she called Mo, she thought, "about secrets and inner thoughts, about our need for them, and as a mother and wife, her fear of them." (p. 165) Do you agree that we need them? Should we fear them?

Discuss: Tia thinks that if humans recognized how quickly the life they take for granted could be obliterated they'd go crazy. She thinks the reason some people need daily meds "is because they understand the reality, how thin the line is. It isn't that they can't accept the truth - it's that they can't block it." (p. 168) Agree?

Discuss: Love and friendship are the intelligent minds way of distracting us from futility? (p. 214)

Discuss: Are parents too involved these days? Do teens need room to rebel? (p. 284)

Question: Kids escape into the computer like we escape into a book. Is this good or bad? (p. 292)

Question: Lead Agent Loren' Muse found her father's body at 14 - revealed on page 300. Does it matter so late in the story?

Question: Once Hester Crimstein began helping Mike and Tia with the FBI, do you think she had any ounce of remorse for dismissing the importance of Adam running away?

Question: Nash thought, "Maybe it is society, not war, that forces man to act in a way that's not in his true nature." (p. 363) What are some other instances that support this theory in the real world?

Question: Nash reflects on p. 364 that kids are taught to focus on themselves because they are unique and special which practically makes it not so. Is this accurate of society today? Is this a good or bad trend?

Question: Do you believe nature or nurture is the stronger force in shaping a person? (p. 373) Nature vs. Nurture - "hard-wiring" or "just some random event that alters lives"?

Discuss: (p. 384) "A man stayed out of obligation. ... You sacrificed your happiness in the thin hope that it would make the next generation happier. But did that come with a guarantee - I remained unhappy but my kids would be more fulfilled. It's a thin line between standing up for yourself and being selfish.

Discuss: Susan's mother told her, "You pay for your sins". What was Susan's sin? Going out? Or stabbing the rapist instead of just running away? Was Lucas' illness her payment?

Discuss both sides: Nash wondered why pedophiles attempted to rationalize their crimes instead of just accepting it as how God made them and arguing against it was criticizing God (p. 449).

Discuss: "Trust was like that. You could break it for a good reason, but it still remained broken." (p. 467) How to recover or rebuild?

Question: Did you ever suspect Mo?

Question: Were you surprised at who Lucas' donor was? Why was that storyline necessary?

Theme Ideas

Play music: "Congratulations" by Blue October, "Seed" by Angie Aparo and "Where I Stood" by Missy Higgins.

Make a sad song CD for your guests to take home like Cope made every month for his fiance.

Serves Hershey's Kisses, especially "hugs" since a hug holds you tight.