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After Kathleen Cheng is dumped by her boyfriend, she takes a job as a professional cuddler at a Bay Area startup. But what starts as an ironic attempt to fill her time while stuck in her hometown for her mother’s wedding soon becomes a profound lesson in intimacy. After Kathleen takes the job, each chapter of Jenny Xie’s absorbing debut novel begins with a set of instructions on how to properly perform its techniques, from the “cuddle puddle” to the “half spoon.” It would be easy to laugh at the notion that one needs a lesson in how to hold someone. Yet Xie writes with such tenderness that it is nearly impossible not to feel moved by the profound effect this forced closeness has on the stubborn Kathleen. By opening herself up to the touch of strangers, Kathleen becomes more receptive to an embrace from her mother, a livewire who acts as her daughter’s greatest foil. Holding Pattern shows that sometimes all it takes is a little push, or even a hug, to get out of a rut. —Shannon Carlin

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