Monday, May 13, 2013

Holding on to Zoe by George Ella Lyon

This bizarre little book tells the strange story of sixteen year old Juliet McCauley, who becomes pregnant by her boyfriend Damon. It is one year after the Challenger accident - 1987 - and Jules lives with her mother in an apartment. Jules father left when she was five years old, abandoning her mother and moving out of state to remarry. Her mother, who works full time as a social worker, has little time for Jules, and they rarely have much to say to one another. Jules' mother is not happy, burdened with the care of a daughter, and trying to make ends meet. She constantly puts down Jules father, whom Jules remembers as the happy parent. But her mother is also distant and unemotional, considering expressing sorrow a sign of weakness.

When Jules becomes pregnant she typically has trouble telling her mother. So first she goes to see her school counselor who advises her to tell her mom but when Jules does tell her mother she refuses to believe her. So Jules, knowing that she is pregnant, decides to go see their family doctor, Dr. Brennan, who does a pregnancy test and orders an ultrasound when he suspects the Jules has an ectopic pregnancy. An ultrasound confirms this but Jules refuses to accept the loss of her baby. She tells the ultrasound specialist, Dr. Demato, that her baby is just waiting to make sure she is wanted.
'She had to be sure I was ready and she was welcome, that's all. She couldn't settle in because Mom didn't believe I was pregnant.'
It is at this point in the novel that the reader realizes what he/she suspected is in fact true; Jules is not mentally well.  When Demato explains how an ectopic pregnancy develops, Jules becomes violent and tries to run away. After having the pregnancy removed she is sent to Meadowview, a mental hospital. However Jules believes that she is working at a Toyota plant and that she has had her baby, who is now with her and staying in the company nursery. However, when their insurance runs out, Jules is removed from Meadowview and taken home by her mother who believes her to be "dramatic" and only interested in causing trouble.

An altercation with her mother leads Jule to be taken to the emergency room at a nearby hospital, where she wants her "baby" to be checked out. There recognize Jules problem and schedule her to meet with a specialist, Dr. Emma Douglas. In her talks, Jules discovers that she has kept Zoe in order to protect her, to keep her safe. But Jules doesn't feel safe because bad people are not allowed to feel safe. Zoe makes Jules feel safe. Jules has also been told that she can never cry, because tears are a sign of weakness.

Only as Emma leads Jules to uncover a secret past trauma,can Jules begin moving forward and heal. Jules situation is very tragic because she did the right thing when she was a child - she told an adult - her mother. But her mother refused to believe her just as later on, she refused to believe that Jules was pregnant.

This novel doesn't quite work. There is very little character development, something a story of this nature requires and Lyon has some interesting characters that she could have fleshed out more if she chose too. Reba was a wonderful friend who was supportive and caring, as was her mother. Even Dr. Douglas was someone the reader wanted to know more about. And Lyon's could have used Douglas to explain more about the problem Jules had and how it developed.

The resolution of Jules problem seems to come quite quickly in the last few chapters and the ending leaves us wondering how she will work through her problems. It seemed to me that her mother needs counseling as much as Jules does.

There are plenty of other well written books dealing with sexual abuse and its psychological effects on children. Holding on to Zoe is not one of them.

Book Details:
Holding On To Zoe by George Ella Lyon
New York: Margaret Ferguson Books      2012
166 pp.

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