“This book was a bit like the reverse of the famous John Green quotation about falling in love; it happened all at once and then very slowly. The story itself began with an image. I saw the moment when Luke first stops time.”
In her new novel Hold, Rachel Davidson Leigh explores grief, and how it affects people. Based off her own experiences with loss, her main character Luke has just lost his sister. After the loss, Luke finds out he can stop time, but his powers and his grief entwine and relate to each other.
“I also lost a sibling, under similar circumstances, when I was about the same age as Luke, but one of the things that allows the novel to be honest about loss is its distance from my own life. Luke walks through some of the same places I remember, but he transforms them into something entirely new.”
Luke’s grief and his powers grow out of each other until he can hardly see the line between the two. That pulls on Leigh’s own flavour of favourite stories: superhero comics, sci-fi and fantasy stories as well as musicals, where the epic emotion of the adventures underline and give literal form to human experiences.
“In many ways, his powers become a kind of coping mechanism for understanding and dealing with loss. Luke and his friends don’t know how to deal with grief. I mean, who does? But they do know comics. They know superhero backstories, and suddenly Luke seems to have an entire origin story dropped in his lap. He has the tragedy, the superpowers, and maybe even a convenient villain, but as he moves forward, he keeps coming face-to-face with the ways that his life doesn’t fit that convenient package.”
The idea of fiction reflecting reality can be seen throughout the novel. All of the main characters are theater kids, and plays and their performance have a big presence in the story. This shows even in the cover itself, which Leigh says is a good representation of what the novel is trying to convey:
“The script in the back is actually a page from the First Folio edition of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. It echoes one character’s love for a monologue in that play, which returns over and over, much to Luke’s chagrin. Most of all, it reflects the novel’s love affair with language and the ways that even the best intentions can go awry.”
Leigh isn’t done telling stories. Going forward, she wants to work on more LGBTQ YA novels.
“I’m pretty sure this is going to be my writer-home for good long while, in large part because it’s wonderful writing about that aspect of myself and the people that I love. It’s the same reason why all of my novels are going to engage with representations of disability. The next novel, though, is going to be a lot lighter. It centers on two former best friends and current rivals, Natalie and Noelle, forced to vie for the same math scholarship. The situation would be workable if they didn’t have to travel together, or room together, or face the fact that Noelle’s had a soul-killing crush on Natalie since, roughly, forever.”