Summary: Seven months ago, on a rainy March night, sixteen year- old Willow’s parents died in a horrible car accident. Willow was driving. Now her older brother barely speaks to her, her new classmates know her as the killer orphan girl, and Willow is blocking the pain by secretly cutting herself. But when one boy—one sensitive, soulful boy—discovers Willow’s secret, it sparks an intense relationship that turns the “safe” world Willow has created for herself upside down.
Told in an extraordinary fresh voice, Willow is an unforgettable novel about one girl’s struggle to cope with tragedy, and one boy’s refusal to give up on her.
Review: I suspect that I am the Hype Monster of the blogosphere, send me a well regarded title and I will shoot holes in it. It's not my intention but it's become my modus operandi...but it's with great pleasure that I can say that I very much enjoyed Julia Hoban's effort. It's a honest, strong and unflinching exploration of a grief stricken girl - who just happens to self-harm. Yet despite it's power and darker subject matter, Hoban has infused her pages with empathy and understanding.
Self-harm. Cutting. It's not something I really think about, it's not something that would ever occur to me. Yet Hoban managed to make the action understandable. For the protagonist, Willow, it is a necessary act of emotional release. Carrying her guilt for the accident that took her parents lives, her grief in finding herself an orphan and the loss of her brother in a connective way, Willow is swimming in self imposed isolation, her brother's emotional desertion, a pushy anthropology nerd and her overwhelming need to not feel anything. It is an emotionally wrenching read but tempered by Willow's delicate friendship with the deliciously dorky, Guy.
Willow speaks to the unifying power of beautifully written and inspired words. Willow and Guy's discussion of The Tempest in particular will encourage the reader to get their hands on that play and find out who Ferdinand is. The pace and the general arc of this novel is particularly well done.
Hoban is talented in writing a sympathetic, understanding but outstandingly fragile protagonist. Despite all her obvious flaws, Willow is strong in ways that she cannot comprehend but those around her cannot help but notice. Characterisation is accomplished with finesse as minor characters are fully formed individuals with their own voices. David is a character that is impossible not to feel for. He is also doggy paddling in a tumultuous storm, one where neither sibling is able to realise that the other is their life preserve. It's a compelling read.
Despite the cutting, I feel the core of this novel is Willow breaking through the pain, processing her feelings instead of allowing them to rob her of any semblance of a life, to allow people in and ultimately heal what is left of her family. It sounds unbelievably sobering, I know. But there is light and it comes in the form of the unrelentingly patient, unapologetically smart and eternally empathetic, Guy. If there was to be a "good guy" to knock Gilbert Blythe off his perch, it would be this fellow. What is most engaging about this guy is that he's genuinely interested in Willow in all matter of ways and doesn't derail the plot from our protagonist, instead his role is to ably assist Willow with her needs. It is an intriguing friendship.
Willow is fantastic YA release, one that makes self-mutilation relatable, understandable and ultimately something we all should be more aware of. My only quibble is the title, I don't believe it really conveys the breadth of the story well. It's much more complex than that single word can impart. Regardless, Willow is a powerful read that you should buy and re-read often.
Format: Hardcover, 336 pages
Publisher: Penguin USA
Source of Review Copy: purchased
For those in Michigan - Julia Hoban has a signing at the Barnes and Noble, Grand Rapids on the 23rd of October (6-8pm). Have fun for me!~
**A few months back there was a celebratory blog created for Willow's release and I volunteered to write a post. If you'd like to hear my thoughts on Shakespeare through the teen movie medium, go here.