The Art of Holding On and Letting Go: Travel, Climbing, and Finding Yourself

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

“When every piece falls into place, it’s like a dance, a delicate but powerful balancing act. The art of holding on and letting go at the same time.”

Such is the beautiful writing in the winner of Elephant Rock Books’ 2016 Sheehan YA Book Prize, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go, by Kristin Lenz. A fellow Michigander, Lenz has written a powerful story of family, finding yourself, and growing up. 

The Art of Holding On and Letting Go: Travel, Climbing, and Finding Yourself

Lenz is a writer and social worker whose career has taken her through rural Appalachia, the California Bay Area, and inner-city Detroit. She is the co-editor of the Michigan Chapter blog for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. The Art of Holding On and Letting Go is her first book.

And what a book it is…

From the first page, this book reels you in and leaves you never wanting it to end. If you start it at night, be forewarned! This is a tale that includes travel, climbing, nature, big cities (waves to Detroit! Love you!), following your dreams, the very real nature of safety in climbing, and the importance of family and friends. And all while I was reading the book, I wondered how Lenz was able to capture all of these things into one flawlessly written novel. 

For capture these she does, in a novel that is perfect for young adults (as well as those of us past young adult age that love great books). Cara is a complex, likeable character, and I imagine that every reader sees a bit of themselves in her (or vice versa). There are several interesting supporting characters in this book, and all of them seem like people we know (or want to know). Such is the skill in which Lenz weaves this tale – an entirely relatable one, in which we feel right at home. Perhaps my favorite character is Cara’s grampa – he’s not only patient, loving, and caring, but has unplumbed depths (another story? Please!). 

This is one book I am happy to recommend, for all readers. You’ll enjoy it, learn much, travel the world through the story (one of my most favorite things, ever), and fall in love with a book that you, in turn, will recommend highly.

We were lucky enough to catch up with Kristin, as part of her virtual book tour, and ask her about the book, inspiration, climbing, family, relationships, and more. Here’s what she had to say…   

Author Kristin Lenz. The Art of Holding On and Letting Go: Travel, Climbing, and Finding Yourself

Please tell us about your book, The Art of Holding On and Letting Go... 
You’d think I’d be pretty good at describing my book my now, but it’s still hard! I’ve been impressed by reviewers and friends who’ve been able to sum it up simply, like this: “It’s a story about a girl's journey to discover who she truly is, no matter where she lives or who she's with.” Another blogger described it as “YA for any age,” and I was so happy to see that. The book has been recommended for ages 12+, and I’ve been hoping adults as well as teens will connect with it.

It’s a young adult coming-of-age novel about 15-year-old Cara, a competitive rock climber who’s been home schooled for much of her life as she traveled the world with her mountaineering parents. When tragedy strikes on an Ecuadorian mountaintop, Cara must start over with her grandparents in suburban Detroit. Her story is about love, loss, the transformative power of nature, and discovering that home can be somewhere very different than where you started. 

What inspired you to write this book? 
I fell in love with the mountains when I moved to Georgia and then California. My husband and I began rock climbing, and we followed the stories of professional mountaineers. One by one these climbers died attempting epic accents. They left behind spouses and children, and I began to wonder what it would be like to have this upbringing. How would a child of a mountaineer be raised differently than the suburban world I grew up in? How would this shape her worldview? 

What is your background in climbing? I learned so much about climbing from reading this book! 
I’ve never climbed competitively, but I learned to climb outdoors on real cliffs and later combined that with gym climbing – both of which are settings in the book. I’ve been able to climb in several states and in France and Switzerland. But now that I’m back in Michigan and have a daughter, I’m more of a soccer mom than a climber! 

I love how so much of family and place are important to Cara - why do you think this helps ground teens so much, during this time in their lives?
Adolescence is full of transitions and upheaval. Teens’ brains are changing, their bodies are changing, relationships are changing, and they need to find comfort and security somewhere. Due to challenging circumstances, some teens can’t find that security at home, and they might seek it in inappropriate ways or places. Fortunately for Cara, she could count on her grandparents and her new friend Kaitlyn, and ultimately they helped her to better understand herself and her parents.

One of the things that I loved about this book was that Cara's relationships with others (grandparents, friends) grew even while she was dealing with her parents being away. How has your work informed your writing?
One of the best parts of being a social worker is witnessing the resilience of children and teens. I’m amazed at their ability to keep moving forward, retaining or reshaping their identity, and forming meaningful connections and relationships even in the face of trying times and tragedies.

What's up next for you?
It’s been so wonderful to work with Elephant Rock Books, and I’d love to do it all over again with my next book, but they only publish YA novels through their Sheehan YA Book Prize. I was the winner last year, and they’ll be looking for a new winner in 2017. My new novel is an edgy contemporary, tentatively titled Runaway, and it’s currently on submission via my agent. Fingers crossed! 

Is there anything else you'd like to share?
The Art of Holding On and Letting Go also became a metaphor for my publishing journey, which took over ten years. I believed in this story, but it required many, many revisions and the support of the Kidlit writing community for me to persist through the  years of rejections, close calls, and disappointments. If you are a writer in the midst of this journey, take heart and plant yourself in the middle of an encouraging, knowledgeable, and tough group of peers who contribute to and celebrate each other’s success.

Thanks so much for interviewing me, Jessie!


We’re part of a virtual book tour – please click through to read more about The Art of Holding On and Letting Go – book reviews, guest posts, and more.

Aug. 22 – Kristin guest posts on Making Connections
Aug. 26 – Kristin interviewed on Fiction Over Reality
Aug. 30 – Kristin interviewed on A Leisure Moment
Sept. 1 – Kristin interviewed on Crazy Book Obsessions!
Sept. 4 – Kristin makes an appearance on blackplume
Sept. 6 – Kristin guest posts on Books Are Love
Sept. 8 – Kristin interviewed on Alice Reeds
Sept. 12 – Release day post on Making Connections
Sept. 12 – Kristin guest posts on Books & Tea
Sept. 12 – Kristin is interviewed by her agent, Carrie Pestritto, on Literary Carrie
Sept. 15 – Kristin interviewed on Books Are Love
Sept. 20 – Kristin guest posts on The Reading Date
Sept. 23 – Kristin guest posts on Twenty Three Pages
Sept. 26 – Kristin interviewed on Literary Rambles
Sept. 28 – Kristin interviewed on Wandering Educators
Oct. 5 – Kristin interviewed on Operation Awesome

And, while not on the virtual book tour, I loved this article:
This YA Novel Taught Me 7 Important Lessons About Being An Adult

Find Kristin online:

And of course, Elephant Rock Books:

Find the book: Amazon | IndieBound | Books-A-Million | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | KoboElephant Rock Books


Sheehan YA Book Prize for The Art of Holding On and Letting Go

The Art of Holding On and Letting Go - Junior Library Guild Selection

Read our review of last year's winner (and our author interview!), Jessie Ann Foley's Carnival at Bray (LOVED IT! Elephant Rock Books can sure pick fantastic reads).