By Nell Gavin
In 1973, "crazy" Holly unexpectedly falls in love with Trevor, a roadie for a famous
English rock band. From the moment they meet, dreams of marriage, children, and
a normal life are suddenly -finally -within Holly's grasp.
Trevor takes her with him on tour and introduces her to the backstage world of
Rock & Roll. When she steps onto the band bus, she enters a world completely
different from her life back home, where she works at a low-paying job, chases
cockroaches with a shoe, and sleeps to escape the pain of hunger.
Holly has a bigger secret. Plagued by panic attacks, periodic rages, and depression,
she needs to learn why her mentally ill mother committed suicide, so she can save
Thus far, she has found no answers. She must conceal her symptoms from Trevor
in order to keep him, but as their relationship becomes more serious, her illness
becomes increasingly difficult to hide.
Can Holly keep the crazy at bay for long enough to let her dreams come true?
HANG ON won the silver medal in the Living Now Book Awards under its original
title, All Torc’d Up.
Caution: Some strong language.
On bad days, Mommy stretched out on the sofa, wrapped herself in blankets and didn’t speak.
Her eyes were strange and unfocused, and her voice was distant whenever I prodded her to respond to
a question. Her answers sometimes didn’t make any sense, or she let them drift off and fade away,
unfinished. Sometimes she told me to leave her alone and go find something to do. I would obediently
turn on the television, and watch it for hours. Mommy listened to the radio or slept, and let me play by
myself, find food for myself, fend for myself. It had always been like that, with her intermittent “bad
Since I couldn’t read yet, and Mommy didn’t like to read to me on bad days, I would tell her
stories, making them up to go along with the pictures in my Golden Books, which I held in my lap while
sitting in the crook of Mommy’s limp arm. I always pulled her arm around me in a kind of a hug.
Sometimes I made her tea with cold tap water and a tea bag. When I would offer her the cup, she would
take a sip and smile, then place it on the table and forget about it.
I would try other things to entice Mommy to notice me on bad days. I played my red 78 rpm
record, “Tina the Ballerina,” and twirled and danced to it in front of her. I sang the songs I’d learned
from children’s programs on television. Or I drew her pictures, which I would tape to the refrigerator
myself after Mommy absently told me they were “good.”
Mommy would occasionally lift herself up to go to the bathroom, then would patter barefoot
into the kitchen and open the refrigerator. She might grab a piece of fruit or a few slices of bread, or
merely shut the refrigerator door again, seemingly preferring hunger to the effort involved in food
preparation, or even in making a decision on what to eat. Then she would get herself a glass of water
from the faucet before settling back on the sofa.
Sometimes the effort of getting up for fresh water was too much, and Mommy would drink my
stale tea, still waiting for her on the table. When she did, I was very proud.
Mommy had had one bad day after another for a long time before she went away. Just before
she left, she’d stopped changing her clothing or combing her hair. She stopped giving me baths as well.
When I would speak to her, she’d stare back as if she didn’t know who I was. Other times, she’d run her
fingers down my cheek, then let them fall as if it all required too much strength.
I lived on grape jelly sandwiches and water on most bad days. I made the sandwiches myself,
leaving trails of sticky jelly that eventually hardened into a kind of cement on the countertop, the table
or the floor, creating a feast for the cockroaches. For a treat, I would pull a kitchen chair over to the
counter, climb up, and help myself to handfuls of sugar from the canister on the shelf. Mommy never
said anything about that. Sometimes I’d pull a carrot from the refrigerator—they had long white hairs
growing from them the last time I got one, and were kind of floppy and limp—or I would find an orange
and saw it in half with a steak knife, then suck on it.
The last summer I spent with Mommy, she had a friend, Jack, who came to see us. He took us to
the movies and the beach, and took Mommy out to eat and dance while I stayed with the babysitter,
Mommy had lots of good days that summer when she sang, lifted me up in the air, or tickled
me. She took me to the park where she pushed me on the swing. She told me stories and fussed over
my hair, twisting it into curls and setting it with bobby pins after my evening bath so I could look like
Shirley Temple in the morning. I liked Shirley Temple movies a lot back then. Mommy talked and talked,
sometimes about things I didn’t understand that involved my Daddy, whom I didn’t remember ever
meeting. Sometimes she talked about Jack. She told me about the places the three of us would visit
someday, and the house we would live in with a swing set in the yard. Mommy and I went shopping for
pretty clothes so we could look our best for Jack. We made Rice Krispies treats together, and Mommy
cooked for us, day after day, one wonderful dinner after another, with vegetables and dessert.
Sometimes Jack ate with us and later read me bedtime stories.
On warm sunny days, Mommy often threw open the windows. The two of us stuck our hands
into buckets of soapy water and scrubbed down the kitchen and appliances, then polished all the
furniture. Mommy swept and mopped and vacuumed, humming the whole time. She did the laundry in
the basement and hung it out to dry on the clothesline in the tiny yard behind the apartment building.
My sheets smelled like sunlight in summer. As if nothing made her tired, Mommy cleaned and folded
laundry long after I went to bed.
That summer, Mommy wore lipstick and dresses and took me to restaurants or on a bus to the
zoo. We went downtown on the El train and got rock candy at Carson’s, then visited the Field Museum
to see the Egyptian mummies. We went to lots of places that summer and did lots of things together.
That summer was nice, but as soon as it got cold outside, and the days got shorter, Mommy’s
friend stopped coming to see us. She got quiet more and more. It seemed as though winter was longer
Then Mommy was gone. I could still recall what she was like on the last day we were together,
and how she had told me to “always be a good girl” before sending me off to bed. She’d had tears rolling
down her cheeks, but she had had more energy than usual that day. She had also seemed more decisive
than usual. Looking back, I knew that she had made her choice and roused herself to an action she could
not have taken in her usual lethargic state.
I had offered her my doll that night, asking her if she needed it to feel better. Mommy had
shaken her head. She had hugged me especially hard, and for a long time, before letting me go. I didn’t
wonder what Mommy had meant when she’d said, “I’m really sorry, Pumpkin. Please don’t hate me.”
She’d often say that to me. Years later, I would merely wonder where Mommy had gotten the gun.
I clearly remember being roused from sleep by hands lifting me. I heard sirens and unfamiliar
noises, but managed to blend them into my dream for a little longer.
“Johnson. Hey. Would you grab that doll for me?” The voice was gruff and authoritative, but
somehow very pleasant. It didn’t register in my mind as familiar. “Yeah, yeah, that’s it. And it’s freezing
out. Get me that blanket off the bed and cover her up real good for me, okay? I can’t do it with one
It was a man’s voice—a stranger’s—and it broke me free of my dream. I opened my eyes to find
a policeman holding me close to his chest. Johnson was pressing a blanket around me and tucking my
doll into my arms. The rotating blue lights of two police cars parked in front of the building swirled
around my room, which was otherwise lit by one small lamp on my chest of drawers. I heard the police
car radio down below, an approaching ambulance, and the loud, anxious voices of our neighbors in the
“Mommy!” I screamed, twisting in the policeman’s arms. “Mommy!”
The man held me tightly and said, “Shhh. I’m not gonna hurt you.” I saw him look around the
room, sparsely furnished with a little bed, the chest of drawers and a rocking horse. He would have seen
that my room was messy and covered with dust. The entire apartment was filthy. Leaning away, I saw
the grim look on his face, but didn’t understand enough to be embarrassed or ashamed of the way we
lived. I didn’t understand any of the expressions that crossed his face, or why it softened and was angry,
sad, and sorry all at once when he looked down at me.
The frosted windows were smeared with little fingerprints and months of grime. Red Kool-Aid
had spilled on my bed sheets weeks ago. The pillow had no pillowcase and was badly in need of a
washing. My dinner for the last two nights, an open bag of stale potato chips, was spilled on the
bedroom floor. A cup of milk was on the windowsill from last week and was now a yogurt-like solid
floating on clear yellowish liquid. In the kitchen there were cockroaches and a mess of dirty dishes in the
sink and on the countertops, but there was very little food in the pantry or refrigerator.
I was wearing street clothes instead of pajamas, and probably smelled as though I hadn’t taken a
bath or changed clothes in a week or longer, because I had not.
“I couldn’t find a suitcase,” Johnson said.
“Use a paper bag then. Try under the sink in the kitchen.”
“I want my Mommy!” I insisted, sticking out my lower lip in a frightened pout. I squirmed and
pushed against the policeman’s chest. “Mom-meee!” I screamed. Then I lapsed into hysterical tears,
arching my back and wailing.
Someone in the hallway called out, “McNulty!” and my policemen answered, “In here!” Then he
looked at me and cooed, “Shh, Baby. Shh.” He did not say, “It will be all right.” As a third policeman
came into my room, McNulty absently patted my back and asked, “How old would you say she is?”
“Four, I guess.”
“That’s what I was thinking, too. My Chrissie’s about the same age.”
The other policeman—McNulty called him “Costello”—leaned over to study me. I stopped crying
and looked back at him warily, sticking my thumb in my mouth and glaring. I pressed my shoulder and
cheek into McNulty’s chest to edge away. I reached my other hand out of the blanket and anxiously
twirled a lock of hair. Then I couldn’t endure his examination any longer and pushed my face into
McNulty’s chest to hide.
“Natalie Wood in Miracle on 34th Street,” Costello said. “That’s who she kind of looks like.
Maybe even prettier.”
“Yeah, she’s a real cutie, that’s for sure,” McNulty said. “Aren’t you?” he asked, bouncing me
slightly, but it wasn’t really a question, so I didn’t answer.
I peeked out at Costello, who was still looking at me, but now he seemed angry and upset.
Costello looked mean, and he scared me. I didn’t like him.
“Son of a bitch, I hate this kind of shit,” he muttered. He turned abruptly and left the room.
Johnson returned with some paper bags. He opened my dresser drawers and quickly stuffed the
bags with handfuls of my pants, shirts, underwear and socks. He then moved to the closet and pulled
down my dresses and my winter coat, dropping the hangers onto the floor in a messy pile. He came over
to me, pushed the blanket aside, and slipped a pair of socks and shoes onto my dangling feet.
Outside the bedroom, a rush of footsteps pounded up the staircase and into the apartment.
“Where is she?” I heard someone call from the hallway. I caught sight of two men carrying a stretcher.
“Is she alive?”
Johnson shook his head. “She called the station to say she was gonna shoot herself, and to come
get her kid. We got here, and she was already gone.” He pointed to the door across the hall. The men
disappeared into the other room. Johnson glanced at me and quickly closed the door behind them.
“Let’s get the kid out of here.”
I stiffened. McNulty shifted me to his hip in the confident and practiced manner of a daddy who
had done it countless times before. He gently stroked my cheek with one long, thick finger. I didn’t pull
away because I was too afraid.
Johnson continued, “The suicide note has a phone number for the grandmother. We’ll bring the
kid to the station and call her from there.”
McNulty look down at me. I was sniffling, sucking my thumb, and hugging my doll.
“What’s your name, sweetie?” he asked gently.
I responded around my thumb with a sound like a low grunt.
“Say it again, sweetie. What’s your name?”
“No!” I said more clearly, pulling my thumb out of my mouth. Having heard that they were
taking me somewhere, maybe jail, I was starting to panic. “I want my Mommy!” I demanded.
“Her name’s Holly.” Costello had come back from another room. “It’s in the note.”
“Holly, little darlin’, you’re going for a ride.”
About the Author:
Nell Gavin was raised in Chicago. She spent a number of years
in Texas, before settling in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where she now lives
with her husband and two sons.
Nell is also the author of Threads, the Reincarnation of Anne
Boleyn, which was a William Faulkner finalist for Best Novel.
Review of Hang On by Nell Gavin
Holly Salvino is the product of a mother with periods of severe depression and a father she never knew, who left before her first birthday. Her grandmother is a harridan, and probably a large part of the source of Holly’s mother’s mental issues. Certainly she contributed to Holly’s anxiety and depression, since the child went to live with her at age four, following her mother’s suicide. Holly is beautiful, which actually makes her more standoffish; growing up as she has, she doesn’t have social skill sets for women or men. A friend and co-worker, Angie, introducers to the world of backstage rock-and-roll, and her first encounter with an English roadie, Trevor, is like mutual alchemy creating the Philospher’s Stone and transmuting dross into gold. The problem is, can Holly truly rise above her background and the former molding of her character, and become the “normal” type of person she desires to be?