"Laura Wagner has managed to get a huge amount of Haiti into the pages of this book: the sun, the rain, the bottomless spiral of catastrophe, rage, despair and indomitable hope." —Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls' Rising: A Novel of Haiti
"In Haiti they say 'Kreyòl pale, Kreyòl konprann.' Speak plainly and honestly, and be understood. Laura Wagner does just that in this brave, beautiful book, bringing us the complex life of Magdalie, and a glimpse of a people's soul." —Jonathan M. Katz, author of The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left Behind a Disaster
"Haiti, already one of the poorest countries in the world, was devastated by the earthquake in 2010. This is a story of everything that comes after: from a candid depiction of the international response to a young girl’s account of what a life of desperation can do to an individual and to a society. Magdalie’s journey shows the importance of connections, of family and friends, during difficult times and the anguish that comes when those bonds are broken. In her debut novel, Laura Rose Wagner has managed to capture the devastation of loss while providing determined hope for the individual and the nation. An important read for anyone who wishes to better understand the reality of life in Haiti after the earthquake." —Ophelia Dahl, executive director of Partners in Health
Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go follows the vivid story of two teenage cousins, raised as sisters, who survive the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti. After losing the woman who raised them in the tragedy, Magdalie and Nadine must fend for themselves in the aftermath of the quake. The girls are inseparable, making the best of their new circumstances in a refugee camp with an affectionate, lively camaraderie, until Nadine, whose father lives in Miami, sends for her but not Magdalie. As she leaves, Nadine makes a promise she cannot keep: to bring Magdalie to Miami, too. Resourceful Magdalie focuses her efforts on a reunion with Nadine until she realizes her life is in Haiti, and that she must embrace its possibilities for love, friendship, and a future.
In this formidable first novel, 15-year-old narrator Magdalie loses everything after the Haitian earthquake of 2010 and is forced to rebuild along with her country. This well-adjusted schoolgirl goes from living in Port-au-Prince with her close cousin, Nadine, under the watchful care of Nadine's mother, to finding her own way in a camp after her aunt's death and Nadine's emigration to the United States ("Since January 12, every good-bye feels like it might be forever"). Wagner effectively and unsentimentally highlights the emotional and economic aftermath of the disaster as Magdalie grieves the loss of her family; realizes she cannot afford school; adjusts to life with her reluctant guardian and uncle, Tonton lie; and begins to accept that Nadine is unlikely to send for her as promised. Wagner's portrait of Haitian culture is particularly compelling, and her descriptions of the settings of the city and Tonton lie's country hometown are lush, despite the nation's dire circumstances. An epilogue, set in 2020, resolves the story a bit neatly, but this strong heroine and her will to survive triumph. Ages 14 up.