Words are an important part of the Pearl family life. Eleven-year-old Early and Dash, her father, keep lists of new and interesting words. They love patterns, riddles and phrases with rhythm. They particularly love the poetry of Langston Hughes and treasure a special old anthology of Hughes’, "The First Book of Rhythm.”
In "Hold Fast," Dash is hit by a car on an icy Chicago street, then disappears and Early uses her knowledge of patterns and rhythms to try to solve his “kidnapping.” When the Pearl house is mysteriously trashed, Early, her mom, and younger brother have no recourse but to find a homeless shelter until Dash is located. Since the police believe he is guilty of a crime and on the run, Early must turn to other sources and people — some supportive, some not — for help.
“Hold Fast” is told in smooth transitions of the author’s voice to Early’s perceptions of the dangerous Chicago streets, the homeless shelter with the realities of being a “shelter kid,” to the library where Early confronts suspicious gangsters. It is the library and “The First Book of Rhythm” that hold the key to Dash’s mysterious disappearance.
While the story of a father’s disappearance and a daughter’s attempts at solving the mystery is the main plot, the story-within-the-story is the most powerful part of “Hold Fast” and where readers will become invested. Balliett’s description of the family in the homeless shelter with its regulations and struggles is realistically grim but never maudlin and draws on all one’s senses with the abrasive noises, the uncertain health problems and the shattered normalcy of a real home. The strength of the homeless mother, whose failure at employment but sincere reminders to "hold fast," makes this a worthy read.
“Hold Fast” has an unexpected and satisfying ending, but will likely give readers a reason to view books and book bindings in a totally different way.
“Hold Fast” follows Blue Balliett’s four other award-winning mysteries, each of which focus on a notable part of history: “Chasing Vermeer” (a mystery surrounds one of Johannes Vermeer’s paintings); “The Wright 3” (relates to one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes); “The Calder Game,” (the artwork of Alexander Calder becomes a question) and “The Danger Box” (a diary of Charles Darwin is missing).