Lessons learned in Paris: My review of ‘For Holly’ by Tanya Bryne

41zDuNNLaCL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_For Holly. Tanya Bryne. Headline. June 2015.

Lola Durand hates her stepmother. It’s a cliché but it’s true.

Lola Durand can’t get through to her father. He never wants to talk about the things that matter: why they had to move to Paris, why he had to marry evil Agatha, and how they can get through the heartache of her mother’s death together.

If he won’t listen, she’ll show him. She’ll show him the truth about his new wife and then her life can go back to normal, just the way she likes it.

Lola Durand knows a secret about her stepmother. She’s going to share it.

For Holly is the story of Lola, a teenage girl grieving over her mother’s sudden death in the only way she knows how… by pushing everyone else away.  When she’s forced to move to Paris with her distant father and aloof new stepmother Agatha (whom she cannot stand), she finally has to come to terms with how she really feels… and what kind of person her grief is turning her into.

Lola spends the first part of the novel acting out – shoplifting, drinking, making sarcastic comments every time she speaks, and shouting at anybody who gets too close (or those who don’t get close enough, like her dad, who she can barely get through a single stilted conversation with these days). Although Lola screwed up, over and over again, I related a lot to the real Lola behind the front she puts up, and felt there were a lot of similarities between us – the way she thinks and worries so deeply about everything, the way she decorates her room with Paris postcards, the way she’d go crazy without space and time to herself in her favourite cafe – and she reminds me a lot of myself as a teenager. As such, I couldn’t help but feel desperately sorry for her, because I feel I would have acted exactly the same way in her situation.

I understood the spite Lola feels towards her father and stepmother, because she so badly wants to stay in London, in the house which still smells of her mother’s perfume, and where her boyfriend Pan (the one person she feels truly understands and supports her) is just next door where she needs him. Lola is ripped away from her home, and is forced to move to Paris, miles away from Pan and her mum’s memory. I don’t know if anybody could handle such a seemingly unfair situation without lashing out in some way, and although that doesn’t excuse the terrible thing Lola does later in the novel (which I can’t reveal without getting spoilery), it does illustrate the way in which messed up circumstances contribute to thoughtless actions.

An interesting angle in this novel was the way Tanya Bryne explored Lola’s conflicting feelings about moving to Paris. Although she fiercely wants to leave, something in her (a bigger part than she’s ready to admit) starts to fall in love with the city, and Lola feels guilty about all that this implies, because the minute she shows any sign of wanting to stay, it means letting go of Pan, and maybe even some of the grief she’s been holding onto so tightly.

Whilst we’re talking about the setting, this novel is beautifully evocative and made me feel I was walking the streets of Paris in the height of summer. I‘m madly in love with Paris, and as somebody who has obsessively visited this city more than any other holiday destination, I can testify that Tanya Byrne brings it to life. One thing I will mention is that, if you’ve never studied French (which luckily I have a teensy bit), you may want Google Translate next to you whilst reading, as French dialogue crops up a lot throughout the book. Although it’s generally in context/explained a little, you’ll still get more from it if you know exactly what’s being said.

For Holly is narrated by Lola herself, and from the first page, we realise that her words are addressed to a certain person, whom she has wronged terribly and is trying to explain her actions to. I guess it’s obvious from the title that this person is named Holly, yet for some reason it took me a long time to figure that out, and I felt rather silly! However, we don’t know who Holly is until roughly halfway through the novel, and I only worked it out a few pages before the reveal, so I’d say it was a well-hidden twist (though that could just be my slowness rearing its head again!) As I mentioned previously, there is no excuse for what Lola does (to Holly), yet Lola’s actions did not make me like her less – I enjoyed the fact that Lola was a flawed character, as I think a protagonist who makes mistakes leads to a more interesting character arc. I also think that guilt and consequences add so much depth to a story, and to a person. There’s a second twist right at the end of the novel surrounding these ‘consequences’, which I definitely didn’t see coming, and I think it made a great ending, which still managed to be poignant, and not simply there for shock value.

This novel demonstrates perfectly the fact that everybody grieves in their own way. Lola goes off the rails for a while and starts becoming somebody she wasn’t before. Because Lola’s behaviour affects other people, those people lose the ability to talk to Lola about how she’s feeling, because she’s determined to push them away. Everyone in this novel acts like there is a right way to grieve, and a right amount of time to grieve for (or at least, Lola perceives it that way), and everybody seems to think that Lola is going about hers in the wrong way. However, Lola’s heart-to-heart with her father later in the book was one of the most powerful scenes in the novel, because we finally see that there isn’t just one way to miss somebody, and everyone is entitled to handle pain in their own way, including those whose behaviour we’re struggling to understand (which applies both ways in the relationship between Lola and her dad.)

This was a highly readable story, written in beautiful prose, with some well placed twists, and some spot on observations about people, and how they behave when they’re hurting. I loved it, and I hope you will too.