Willow is written by Julia Hoban and was published in 2009 by Dial Books (Penguin). Hoban has a blog about the book, found here.
Genre: Tough Read/Realistic
Willow drove her parents home one rainy night and got into an accident, where both her parents were killed. Now she copes with the guilt and pain she feels by cutting herself, until she meets a boy named Guy who is determined to help her.
“But if you’re going to divide the world into two types, can’t you come up with some more interesting categories?”
“Odyssey or Iliad,” he says promptly.
“Please! The Iliad!”
Warnings: Self-harm, swearing, sex between teenagers
Recommended Age Range: 16+
What I Liked:
Willow and Guy had some really cute scenes. Willow and David’s scenes were my favorite.
What I Didn’t Like:
This book was just overall blah. I’ve read a lot of tough reads, and Willow is one of the worst that I’ve read. First of all, it was written in third person present tense, which does not flow nearly as well as first person present tense. I found myself focusing more on the tense than on the actual story; the tense kept throwing me out.
Willow herself was annoying. She was incredibly thoughtless, selfish, and her paranoia, while making sense, was a little over-the-top. I wanted to slap her throughout most of the book. Her inner dialogue—in fact, her entire personality—was just off-putting to me. I couldn’t connect with her, which made me not invest in her story, which gave me the overall impression of blah.
Finally, I didn’t agree with the way Willow’s cutting was resolved. (spoilers) She didn’t tell her brother, her legal guardian, because she thought it would “kill him” to know. The only person who knows is her boyfriend, Guy, and he is the one who ultimately gets her to throw away her razor blades and is the one who is ultimately responsible for getting her to stop. While this in itself isn’t bad—I wish she had told her brother, but okay, fine, at least she’s getting better—the way that Hoban leads up to this point, I think, is. It seems to me that Hoban achieves Willow’s turn-around by having Willow sleep with Guy, as if sex is some magical cure-all that establishes this special connection between two people that wipes away everything else. “I’m your lover now,” Guy says. “That box of blades can’t be your lover anymore…” (Hoban 326-327). I think this is the main reason why I didn’t like this book, because I don’t think that sex, especially sex between teenagers, is the answer to life’s problems, nor is it even healthy (end spoilers). Of course, there are other factors that tied in to Willow’s decision to throw away her blades, but it’s clear that her relationship with Guy is one of the main reasons. And unfortunately, I just don’t buy it; I don’t think it was the way Hoban should have dealt with this serious issue and the book failed because of it.
If you like tough reads, then pick up this book; you might like it more than I did. But there are better tough reads out there: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Bitter End by Jennifer Brown are just two examples (in fact, I highly recommend that you read either or both, if you enjoy tough reads). Because of the topics addressed, I wouldn’t recommend giving this book to anyone under sixteen, unless you feel it’s necessary or that it would be helpful.
Coming Up Next: Peeling the Onion by Wendy Orr