Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book Review: Willow by Julia Hoban

Book: Willow
Author: Julia Hoban
Published: 2009
Source: Local Library

"To lose one parent . . . may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness." Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Willow always thought she had an all-right life. She had decent parents and a neat brother and good friends. But that was before the rainy night that both her parents were killed in a horrifying car accident, and she was at the wheel. Now Willow is living in a tiny, tiny world, filled only with pain. She divorces herself from everything good in a twisted penance. The only thing she can do to let the pain is to cut herself. Somehow, when that razor bites into her skin and the blood wells up, she's able to handle it again. At least until the next time.

Then she meets Guy, and it is through her blooming relationship with him that Willow's world of pain opens up, one inch at a time, to let life back in again.

After I closed this book, I was struck by how little happened. Not to say that nothing happens, but there was very little Huge Drama. Willow does not land in the hospital as a result of her cutting, she doesn't faint in the middle of school, there's no enormous blowup with counselors and teachers and others swarming around her. (One exception is a rather spectacular meltdown directed at her brother.) Everything is outwardly small-scale. She makes baby steps toward new friends and Guy and her brother David. But it all feels huge because it's such a seismic shift for Willow to reach out again.

Another thing Hoban does incredibly right is Willow's halting progress away from cutting. She takes steps through her grief and back into real life: going back to her old house, finally opening up to her brother and forcing him to open up her, talking to the best friend she's been avoiding, and most of all letting Guy into her painful little world. But at the same time, she clings to her razors. While the frequency of her cutting diminishes, she clutches them like a lifeline until the very end, and even then you know that during bad times to come, she'll think about the gleaming steel edges with longing.

That's not to say this is a perfect book. Stylistically, Hoban uses italics and ellipses so much as to make it annoying. Also, Guy was a little too wonderful. He was allowed to let off steam occasionally, in frustration and horror over what Willow was doing to herself, but there was a real White Knight vibe about him: the perfect boy, sent to rescue Willow from herself. Finally, I often got frustrated at Willow's blame cycle. She made everything her fault.

But of course, that's where her head is. That's why she's cutting, because there's no other way to let it all out, and that's the final thing that Hoban does amazingly well. This is not the story of pain diminishing. Willow will always be the girl who was driving the night her parents were killed. That's not something that anyone can fix, ever. But throughout the novel, Willow learns to forgive herself, take on her own grief, and start living again.

1 comment:

wdebo said...

I have been waiting to read Willow for a while now, though it does seem to have its faults, but then again which book doesn't? I still really want to read it.

Awesome review!!

Wdebo :)

P.S. I was wondering if you wanted to do a link exchange/Follower exchange?