The Holders by Julianna Scott

What really worked for me in this story were the characters.
The Holders book cover

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. She reluctantly agrees to join Ryland on his journey and what they find at St. Brigid’s is a world beyond their imagination. Little by little they piece together information about their family’s heritage and the legend of the Holder race that decrees Ryland is the one they’ve been waiting for - but, they are all, especially Becca, in for a surprise that will change what they thought they knew about themselves and their kind.

The Holders by Julianna Scott is the latest offering from YA fantasy specialists Strange Chemistry. The best way I can describe this book is X-Men meets Harry Potter in Ireland. While this book isn't as hard hitting as Pantomime or Broken, it is still a fun adventure full of magic, discovery, love, betrayal... you know... all those themes we like reading about in a YA novel.

The Holders tells the story of 17 year old Becca and her younger brother Ryland, two siblings living with their mother in the heart of the U.S.. Ryland hears voices, and while everyone else thinks he is crazy, Becca knows there is more to it than just delusion. It all changes after being tracked down by two people who work for their estranged father - they seem to know exactly what is wrong and they want Ryland to get treatment at a specialized school in Ireland run by their father. The family agrees, but only if Becca goes with them.

Okay, so just in case the premise isn't clear, The Holders is about a school in Ireland that specializes in the training of magic abilities that manifest themselves in young children. It’s not a particularly original idea, but it has been well thought out and well executed by Scott. It's easy to engage with the story, it’s easy to read a hundred pages in a sitting, and it is easy to pick this book up from where you left off and plough through another hundred pages.
The simplicity is welcome, especially after reading those heavy YA books I mentioned above, but the problem with simplicity is it normally walks hand in hand with predictability. And this book is predictable. Very predictable. It could be my age or the extent of my reading, but I was able to work out every major plot point in the story, and the order in which they would occur. It's not that predictability is a bad thing, and it is much better than having a twist just because, but there was no real suspense in this story and no alternative options presented - your first guess at what is going to happen will probably be right.

What really worked for me in this story were the characters, and the intertwining relationships between them all. The back of this book might say it's about a school for people with powers, but really this book is about people, relationships, and watching them evolve. There is angst when a young daughter is forced to reconnect with the father who abandoned her, there is joy when a young boy meets his father for the very first time, and the contrasting reactions create immediate friction between a pair of siblings who up until that point had been completely inseparable. These are just a couple of the many relationships that are forged in this story, and all together they make a compelling argument to keep picking up the book and reading it to its conclusion. Oh and all the Irish stuff is really, really cool.

The Holders is not a big mover and shaker in the genre. It's not a heavy hitter. It's not out to defy genre conventions and challenge the reader with some emotion charged themes. Instead, The Holders is a book that wants to tell an entertaining story about people with magic who are just finding out that the world they live in is much bigger than what they could have ever imagined. And in my opinion, it definitely succeeds.

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