Willow, by Julia Hoban – Book Review

FeeliWillow goes to live with her older brother and his family after her parents die in a tragic car accident. Feeling that everyone must view her as a killer (she was the one driving the night her parents died), Willow distances herself from her former life and friends.  Complicating matters further, Willow and her brother barely speak and she feels that his having to raise her is a strain on his new family’s resources.  Her sole pleasure is experienced when she indulges in cutting herself, until, she meets someone who makes her examine her life and think about changing her ways.

Willow is a touching story about a young woman coming to terms with painful changes in her life after the loss of her parents.  Hoban deftly portrays Willow’s fragile existence and how her negative perceptions of interactions with others, both real and imagined, send her running for  the cutting  instruments which she always keeps close at hand.  Hoban also gives a fine rendering of a family who is in deep pain, carefully conveying what that pain looks like.  It was both a struggle and very frustrating for me to watch Willow’s relationship with her brother, and to experience with her the missed opportunities for connection as a result of their not communicating with each other.

Hoban shows how growth and change is small, and takes time.   Willow is slow to take advantage of the friendship offered by Guy, and by extension his circle of friends.  The back and forth and the awkwardness as Willow tries to climb out of her grief and begin a new life was so well-played as to be uncomfortable to read. I was a bit skeptical at first over the use of Willow’s relationship with Guy to broach her experiences with cutting, but upon further examination I decided it was a likely course in a situation like this.  Often we don’t turn to professionals to get help, and only sometimes are we able to let in our friends.  Guy was conflicted not only in his feelings about what Willow was doing to herself, but also in the way he responded to her circumstances.

Hoban delicately explores the world of grief and pain and the self-destructive road to which it can lead.  Her ability to humanize this disorder and shed light on cutting makes this a valuable resource not only for teens who are experiencing this, but for so many others.  Willow treats its subject matter with depth and compassion, and I look forward to seeing where Hoban will next turn her pen. Recommended.

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Review copy.


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  3. Oh my goodness, now I want to reread this. You’ve reminded me how much I loved this book. I’m so glad you enjoyed it!

  4. bermudaonion

    I really enjoyed this book, too. It made me understand cutting some – a concept I could never grasp before.

  5. This book has been sitting on my shelf since the release date! I fell so bad for those books, hopelessly abandoned without a single page turned. That’s it…I’m quitting my job and doing nothing but read. *Slapping self in face* Ok…back to the real world. I’m glad you loved this one. I must make reading it a priority…when I find out how to stop time or add another 12 hours to the day!

  6. This sounds like a good readalong for my high school daughter and me. Thanks for the great review!

  7. Kathleen

    I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to carry this kind of guilt. This book sounds like it does a good job of getting into these emotionally difficult subjects and doesn’t sensationalize them too much.

  8. One of my favorite books from last year. Hoban is very talented and this book resonates with so many teens and adults.

  9. Well you know that this was one of my top reads last year. I highly recommend it!

  10. Samantha Johnes

    I’m a 13 year old girl and I just finished reading this book. It’s simply AMAZING. Totally loved it and once I started it I couldn’t stop. I would sleep at 3 or 4 am just reading this book. I totally recommend it!

  11. 16wood

    When i read it was so sad and i cryied right and 15 btw and i didnt finsh so beacuse eberytime i tryied reading i would so bad because it just gets to me like now sorry got to go i want to stop crying so yeah its goos right gtg!!:)

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