“Just hold on. Don’t
you dare let go.” These words were repeated over and over to Jessica’s three-year-old brother who is trapped in
a well. Jessica pleads with him, “Even when it hurts you must hold on.” These words gain great significance for
Jessica later on in the book. The image of being trapped in the well comes to symbolize Jessica’s situation of living
with an alcoholic father.
The book, Hold on Jessica, Don’t Let Go, covers two years of Jessica’s life from
eleven to thirteen years old. It is a wonderful book that explores the true-to-life feelings of the child of an alcoholic
parent including the embarrassment, the anger, the fear, the sadness and insecurity.
Jessica feels an emptiness in her heart because
she does not have the love and support of her father. Throughout her childhood Jessica endured constant verbal abuse such
as repeatedly being called a “lazy, stupid kid”, and “stubborn and ugly”. Her father’s words
“stung her heart”. She wants to protect herself and her brother from her father’s rage. Because of Jessica’s
embarrassment and complicated feelings about having an alcoholic parent, Jessica becomes a loner. She considers running away
from home to escape from her alcoholic and abusive father.
Jessica becomes adamant that she
doesn’t want to get trapped in the same life her mother is in –an unhappy marriage and no way out. She has to
do something to change her life. Jessica realizes that she can’t change the past, but that doesn’t mean that she
should let her future just happen. She becomes empowered to set goals and make decisions that will give her choices in the
This is a well-written, thoughtful and compelling story of a young girl coping with the problems of
living in an alcoholic home with an abusive father. The ending passage in the book provides inspiration for all young people.
“There are no magic wands, but there are life preservers. May you find yours and hold on and don't let go.” Jessica’s
words and actions are inspirational and offer hope.
Strategy: Character Sketch
Purposes: Comprehension: to visually represent an understanding of the characters and use the visual representation
to gain a deeper understanding of the character by writing a character sketch.
When to use: After reading
After reading or listening to the story, have the students draw a picture of one of the characters (Jessica, her father,
or her brother). Make six or eight lines near the picture and have the students write what the character does or says on the
lines. Students may use exact quotes. Ask the students to write a paragraph or two describing the character.
To encourage further discussion and gain greater insight into Jessica as a character, ask questions to encourage and
assess comprehension. Following are some sample questions.
How did Jessica change throughout the story?
What did Jessica learn about her mother’s life?
How does the phrase, “Don’t let go”, refer to Jessica’s brother?
How does this same phrase refer to Jessica?
What was a turning point for Jessica in terms of what she wanted to do with her future?
What discovery did she make that helped her forgive her father?
Note: Strategy suggestions are adapted from Guided
Comprehension: A Teaching Model for Grades 3 - 8 by Maureen
McLaughlin and Mary Beth Allen, International Reading Association, 2002, and Words and Pictures: Lessons in Children's Literature
and Literacies by Nina Mikkelsen, McGraw Hill, 2000.