Hold by Michael Donkor

Hold is a moving, funny, and sad novel about friendship, shame, forgiveness, and growing up, that is set between Ghana and London. The protagonist is Belinda, a housegirl who moved from her village to Kumasi when the chance came. She works alongside Mary, a spirited eleven-year-old who became the sister Belinda never had, until Belinda is summoned to London to try and bring Amma out of her shell. Amma is a straight-A student who lives in south London with her Ghanian parents, but recently she has started to seem different to them, moody and uncommunicative. They hope that Belinda will be a good example on Amma, but Amma doesn’t want to be friends at first. And when they do start to get along, their own secrets might pull them apart again.

Belinda’s perspective is distinctive and holds the novel together as she discovers new ways to think and thinks back on the past. Donkor combines this with smaller parts from Amma’s perspective, which shows the differences in their lives and points of view and also how their friendship grows slowly. The way Donkor writes their friendship—how it is forced upon them, but also becomes more natural, something of a give and take—is crucial to the novel, which is full of different comparisons.

This is a multi-faceted novel with engaging and memorable characters, and vivid locations including a recognisably local south London centred around Brixton, Herne Hill, and Streatham. It is a story about growing up and coming of age across different cultures and positions in society, but also in relation to shame, sexuality, and grief. Hold is an exciting debut that combines gripping characters with vivid description to create a coming-of-age story with fresh perspectives.