Aaron is eighteen and about to graduate from high school. One of the most important people in Aaron’s life is his best friend, Jeff, but Aaron is keeping secrets: one, he is gay and in love with Jeff and two, that his father is regularly drunk and abusive.
When Jeff reveals to Aaron that he has found someone he is interested in, Aaron is disappointed but agrees when Jeff suggests they need to talk. After work one evening, when the two are due for this talk, Jeff drops Aaron home only to find Aaron’s house in disarray and Aaron’s mother lying in a pool of blood upstairs, being kicked by his father. Aaron’s life is thrown into chaos when this time he decides to phone the police. With his mother in the hospital, his father in prison, and his younger sister staying with grandparents, Aaron moves into Jeff’s home and with Jeff the only stability in Aaron’s life, Aaron attempts to hide his feelings. When an acquaintance shows an interest in Aaron, Jeff’s reaction resembles jealousy, so is it possible that the two best friends have both been hiding the same secret?
Holding On is a friends to lovers romance story. I really enjoyed the fact that during the first part of Holding On, Sarah Hadley Brook takes time to establish Aaron and Jeff’s friendship. Brook builds a very solid picture of the two young men and their closeness; Jeff is the one who stays beside Aaron at the hospital when his mother is admitted; Jeff holds Aaron through his nightmares and, as a witness, Jeff involves himself in the investigation to prosecute Aaron’s father. As a reader, I found myself comforted by Jeff’s presence in Aaron’s life. Aaron is dealing with loss, grief, and confusion, as well as attempting to continue at school and keep his job. I think I empathized with Aaron more because of the guilt he feels. He was aware of the abuse his father inflicted and did nothing previously. I, however, could not blame Aaron. Brook leaves her reader with no doubt that Aaron loves his mother and sister and that ultimately, Aaron thought his past actions were for the best.
From the beginning of Holding On, we are aware of Aaron’s feelings for Jeff, although Brook allows the anticipation of their romance to increase as the story progresses. I do not think the clues she gives her reader are subtle, though Aaron does not seem to pick up on Jeff’s hints. For example, when Jeff describes the eye color of the person he is interested in:
They are brown and sort of golden with some flecks of green in them. I guess you would say hazel. They’re beautiful.
After this, Aaron notes that “Jeff spoke about someone he really cared about” but fails to register that when he looks in the mirror that his own eyes are hazel.
When Brook makes the friends to lovers transition in Holding On, the story lost its flow for me. This was mainly because Brook chooses to depict the sexual side of their relationship. True, Aaron and Jeff are two eighteen-year-old boys and exploring each other sexually is natural, but I found myself skipping these parts because I was uninterested in them. Even Jeff’s one romantic gesture on prom night is really so they can be together in a hotel room!
I would have liked to have seen Brook concentrate more on Aaron’s panic attacks. We know that he has them and why, but after he chooses to see a professional, the issue is only mentioned again in one paragraph in the penultimate chapter. I do think that this could have been an intentional move on the part of the author, though, as Holding On is already full of emotion and this could have perhaps taken the focus away from Jeff and Aaron as a couple.
The Aaron we see in the final chapter is much changed from the young man at the beginning of Holding On and I almost felt like standing up and applauding his speech. I think Brook’s intention is for this to be an HEA, but as these are two eighteen-year-olds moving on the next chapter of their life, I do feel that it is a HFN ending, although not a disappointing one.
Holding On was not the sweet, fluffy romance I wanted, but I did enjoy Brook’s writing, in particular, the way that she evokes emotion. For me, the story wasn’t perfect, but I would still recommend it to fans of the young/new adult genre.