I like the cover of Julianna Scott’s The Holders. That luminous huge green stone and sinuous Celtic decoration shout out ‘we’re going somewhere a little out of the ordinary, someplace with history’. Isn’t it great when you CAN judge a book by its cover!
The story starts in Pittsburgh, as Becca comes home from work to find her little brother Ryland hiding in his treehouse. Inside the house two men are discussing his future with his mother. This is not the first time people have tried to ‘help’ Ry; unfortunately their help usually takes some form of institutionalisation. He hears voices. He may be different but he’s Becca brother and she’ll take on all comers. But there is something different about this pair, as much as she is loathe to admit it they may actually be able to help.
Their proposition is a school in Ireland, St. Brigid’s Academy, run by Becca and Ry’s errant father Jocelyn. He left their mum high and dry years before, and much to Becca’s fury still adores him. Becca does not adore him; she is angry with him, maybe even despises him. The two guys despatched to collect Ryland have their work cut out. Scary looking, scowling Taron has less than no charm, but cute and earnest Alex is a different matter. Becca takes a shine to him, enough to allow him a chance to start explaining a little about Ryland’s abilities. He’s not crazy, the voices he hears are the thoughts of those around him. Alex takes Becca into his trust, showing her that he too possesses an ability of his own. Instead of freaking out it actually makes sense to her, and so she strikes a deal. Ryland can go to Ireland, but she’s going too to make sure it all checks out and that it is somewhere he’ll be happy.
It is obvious that Becca is not exactly ordinary herself. She graduated school early, has a fierceness about her, and can accept the truth about her brother. As she learns more about Holders, an ancient lineage passed down through the ages, she discovers that her dad, brother and herself have all inherited the traits. Ryland could finally have found someplace he belongs, but Becca’s suspicions are aroused by snatches of overheard conversations. Is the school the sanctuary it seems or is Ryland in greater danger than ever?
There are some things I just really love about The Holders. Although Ryland is the pivotal character in terms of driving the story, it is actually about Becca’s journey. At the school, for the first time, Ryland is normal and doesn’t need Becca taking care of him. She has to learn to let him make friends and enjoy himself. It’s tough for her to try and let go, and she also feels a bit hurt and redundant. Of course she has made a literal journey halfway across the world, but it’s the emotional stuff that really counts. She gets to experience things for the first time, like real friendship and love. She also has to face up to her feelings about her father, and about her own future. It seems like she was existing in a kind of limbo, putting her college plans on hold, waitressing, drifting along. At the beginning of the book Becca talks about Ryland hiding, it’s how he escapes. But he only hides physically, Becca hides emotionally, boxing it up and definitely not dealing with it. Until Ireland.
There are also some interesting characters, such as Min the grandmotherly sorcerer. The secret nature of the Holders and their organisation is intriguing, there’s lots to learn about them. There’s also a twisty-turny plot, that throws up surprises and perils. I enjoyed reading it so was not disappointed to discover there’s plenty of room for the story to continue. As one story ends, another is ready to begin.