17-year-old Becca has spent her whole life protecting her brother - from their father leaving and from the people who say the voices in his head are unnatural. When two strangers appear with apparent answers to Ryland's "problem" and details about a school in Ireland where Ryland will not only fit in, but prosper, Becca is up in arms.I thought The Holders started promisingly enough: Becca's younger brother is recruited by a boarding school in Ireland that doubles as a magical training school for Holderkind. Becca goes with him to the school for a few weeks to look out for him and make sure no one wants to hurt him (like the shrinks who've previously wanted to institutionalise him). One of the school recruiters is an attractive, more-or-less age-appropriate guy who Becca quickly develops a crush on; par for the course in YA. An additional complication is that Becca's estranged father happens to be the principal of the school, opening the story up for some familial angst.
She reluctantly agrees to join Ryland on his journey and what they find at St. Brigid's is a world beyond their imagination.
The further into the story I got, however, the more various aspects bothered me. On the one hand, it was a change of pace to have Becca's ten-year-old brother be the special one in the family. It wasn't a huge surprise when the twist turned out to be that Becca was the really special one, but that was OK. What I found slightly problematic at best, however, was the assertion that women don't usually have as strong/useful magic as men, except not Becca because she's special. I think it was initially used to make it more surprising when Becca did turn out to have magic, but it didn't exactly rock my boat. There were some good female characters along with Becca in the book, however they pretty much included every single female Holder nearby, ie all two of them.
A small thing that wouldn't have bothered me if it was the only issue I had with the book, was the arch bad guy and his powers. Sort of. Apart from the assertion early on that none of the Holders can fly, they're basically superheroes particularly as they exist in a modern setting. Which made me think of other group of superhero narratives which brought me to Heroes (the TV show), particularly when the arch bad guy is revealed to be similar to Sylar, the arch bad guy of Heroes. And then what does special Becca's power turn out to be? (Hint: very similar to Peter's in Heroes.)
But the thing that really pushed my buttons was the imprinting/soulmate trope. The idea of having your free will to love whoever you want taken away is kind of repulsive to me. The only justification in The Holders is that Becca has a crush on her love interest before magic imprinting binds them together. The idea is not deconstructed at all. The closest we got was Becca's dad, who had imprinted on her mother, leaving the family for their own safety. It all irked me. Even Twilight did a better job of analysing moral implications of imprinting with Leah/her ex and later Jacob imprinting on a baby. There was something to dig into there, but in The Holders it was all too saccharine with Becca waxing too lyrical too often about how awesome her love interest was after the imprinting event. On the other hand, I suspect issues of free will are going to be confronted in a different context — mind reading — in the sequels (and were a little in the first book), but I just don't have confidence that the imprinting thing will be.
The Holders wasn't one of my favourite reads. Stylistically it wasn't poorly written, however, it was more the content that bothered me. The ending leaves it open for sequels and I would be tempted to read the next book if it had a promising blurb. I am interested in watching Becca defeat the bad guy, and I would hope that Becca's love interest relationship wouldn't not take centre-stage, having now been established (well, one can hope).
I recommend The Holders to YA fans who aren't bothered by the things I discussed above. It happened to push a lot of my buttons at this point in my life, but I suspect that if I'd read it some years earlier I probably would have been less annoyed. The timing, of course, is not the book's fault.
3.5 / 5 stars
First published: March 2013, Strange Chemistry
Series: The Holders, book 1 of ?
Format read: eARC on my iThings
Source: the publisher via NetGalley