Author: Julia Hoban
Publisher: Dial Books
PublicationDate: April 2009
Hardback: 336 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
SYNOPSIS BACK COVER:
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.
Willow is a moving and poignant young adult novel. When I first read the back cover, I wasn’t sure how I’d react to the subject matter and was concerned about how the author would handle the issue of self harm. But, to my surprise the book captured me from the first page to the last.
Willow is a confused and grief stricken teenager struggling to come to terms with the death of her parents in a car crash. Making her grief even more complicated is the fact she was the one driving when they died.
The book takes off seven months after their death. Willow is living with her older brother David, his wife Cathy and their new baby Isabelle. The move means she also at a new school with few friends and due to circumstances money is also tight, requiring Willow to work in order to contribute her share towards the household bills.
As well as coming to terms with their parents death, Willow and David struggle to come to terms with the shift in their relationship. From brother and sister, to guardian and ward. This shift seems to have irrevocably altered it, which wrapped up with their grieving combines to push them further apart.
Submerged in terrible grief, guilt and loneliness, Willow finds an outlet that enables her to survive: her razor. She lives from one cut to the next, only able to feel she can breathe again when the blade penetrates her skin.
There is no escaping that Willow’s illness is shocking and when you first begin reading even makes you feel a little uncomfortable. Perhaps what becomes more uncomfortable is that after a while you begin to identify, just a tiny bit with Willow as you begin to understand her suffering.
The book is undeniably dark and doesn’t shy away some very difficult issues, but at the same time it does not become too intense.
The main reason for this is Guy. To put it simply, Guy is lovely. A bright, caring and charismatic boy who inadvertently discovers Willow’s secret. They are both horrified at first, but little by little as their connection grows, Guy begins to teach Willow to live again.
Willow has not only forgotten who she is, but how to communicate and live in the outside world. She has shut it all out, because it’s easier to harm herself and focus on that than it is to deal with her own emotions. Guy forces her to look outside herself, to remember what it’s like to enjoy the small things and what it’s like to have friends.
This is what makes the book so eminently good in my opinion, how the narrative combines moments of real darkness with that of hope.
Willow aims to demystify the stigma and misconception around self harm. At first it is a first quite baffling why anyone would chose to disfigure and hurt themselves in this way, but as the book progresses you, like Guy, begin to come to terms with who Willow is.
This book really is beautiful. A surprising choice of word perhaps given the subject matter, but out of the agony and suffering blossoms a love story that is about acceptance and loving a person for who they are despite their flaws.
****Next caveat only includes a small spoiler****
I have one small caveat to my review and that is a small frustration that at no point in the book did Willow and Guy turn to anyone for help. I would have liked to have seen Willow seek professional help or at least tell an adult about her problems. If the book had been about an anorexic sufferer I think the approach would have been different, and this shows perhaps a little naivety in the writing. Given the audience that this is aimed at, it’s important to show that asking for help is not a demonstration of weakness.
**** End ****
Willow is about intense grief, mental illness and ultimately redemption.
Don’t be put off by the difficult subject it explores, while I’m not expert on self harm, I believe it is handled exceptionally well by the author.
The overall message of this book is one of hope. While we all might suffer terrible things in our life, we must never forget ultimately that there is still joy to be had in living it.
SOURCE: Thank you to Moss Media and Dial Books for sending this book for review.
You can find out more about the author here:
Next up on ’10 Fun Days of YA Fiction’: Later today I will be reviewing, Infinity, the first in a new YA series by Sherrilyn Kenyon!