Monday, December 26, 2011

The Pains of Living: Willow

Willow by Julia Hoban
Dial, 2009

Julia Hoban takes on a lot of complex emotions, relationships, and issues in her debut novel Willow. A selection on this year's Illinois Secretary of State Read for a Lifetime list, it's rarely on the shelves at the library where I work - to say it's been popular is an understatement. I was anxious to see what it was about this book when I finally got a chance to grab a copy.

Last spring, Willow's entire world changed in the worst way and she's convinced it's all her fault. Don't even try to tell her that it's not. After all, she was the one driving the car when the accident happened and now since both of her parents are dead, she's living with the guilt and staying with her older brother, his wife, and their baby. She knows that everybody knows she's the girl who killed her parents, but what they don't know is how she's been coping with it all, one cut at a time.

Hoban doesn't shy away from the nitty gritty in this book. Her writing style is captivating and kept me interested, but I wasn't quite as invested as I was expecting to be given how popular the book is. The exploration of "why do people cut themselves?" is handled in an exceptional way - I had friends who were cutters in high school and I could never understand why they did it, but this book gave me a few moments of clarity about how this truly is an illness and that it's an incredibly hard question to answer, and that the answer is different for everybody.

However, there were other areas of the book that I felt could have used a bit more explanation. I understood that Willow was in pain (physically and emotionally) and that she blames herself, but it was hard for me to be sympathetic to her at times, especially when she would refuse to listen to Guy, the boy who enters her life and learns her secret, or when she was convinced that everyone must be talking about her all the time. Having been in Guy's position myself, I could empathize with the situation he found himself in, but I also had some trouble with him as a character - he was just a little too good to be true, he needed a flaw to make me believe that like Willow, he could easily be a real person.

If you're a reader who is interested in "issue" novels such as Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak, give Willow a chance if it's on your local library's shelves. It's not a story for the faint of heart or, at times, stomach, but it is a story worth reading.

Comments welcome and happy reading.

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