Laura Rose Wagner’s debut novel tells the heartfelt, gritty story of a girl living through the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Sixteen-year-old Magdalie and her cousin, Nadine, are like sisters, both raised by Nadine’s mother, who dies in the quake. The boredom, poverty and filth of the makeshift refugee camp are made bearable by the girls’ friendship, but then Nadine’s father procures an American visa, and she moves to Miami. Nadine promises to send for Magda, but as the months drag on, Magda stops expecting a reunion and must rediscover her connection to the people and opportunities that remain in Haiti.
Hold Tight, Don’t Let Go is an excellent choice for readers searching for a diverse narrative. Wagner worked in Haiti for three years, including the year of the earthquake. She is sensitive to reductive and sensationalist portrayals of Haiti, and she tackles these issues in a particularly compelling moment between Magda and an American photographer. There is darkness, anger and despair in what Magda endures, and Wagner is harsh when she needs to be, depicting the hazards faced by young women through moments that are difficult to read. With a realistic balance between righteous anger and sardonic humor, Wagner produces an empathetic and enlightening portrait of a teen’s life in Haiti.