Seven months ago, on a rainy March night, sixteen-year- old Willow’s parents drank too much wine and asked her to drive them home. They never made it—Willow lost control of the car and her parents died in the accident. Now she has left behind her old home, friends, and school, and blocks the pain by secretly cutting herself. But when Willow meets Guy, a boy as sensitive and complicated as she is, she begins an intense, life-changing relationship that turns her world upside down.
I have gone over this review in my head so many times. Willow is one of my all time favorite books and I want my review to express all the things I feel about it but that’s impossible. So here’s my attempt at doing this book justice.
After Willow’s parents (anthropology and archeology professors) die in a tragic car accident in which Willow was driving, she begins cutting herself as a way to deal with the pain. It’s a way to punish herself and for her to have control of the overwhelming emotions engulfing her. She’s now living with David (her brother) and his wife and baby. David won’t discuss their parents or the accident that left him as her guardian and she is too aware of the pressure her being there is putting on this young family.
School is no better. She knows everyone is watching her, the girl who killed her parents, and she avoids people at all costs to avoid the questions that will surely follow. Until one day when she meets Guy while working in the University library. He needs help finding Tristes Tropiques – her father’s favorite anthropology book. He makes her uncomfortable…. he makes her feel.
“Their gazes catch and for a moment she feels herself respond the way any normal girl would if she were standing next to a cute guy. She’s a little flustered, a little embarrassed, and a little attracted too. Willow steps away from him, as far as she possibly can. She can’t deal with anything like this right now”
Guy finds out about her secret and at first he is a reluctant hero. Not sure exactly what to do with this knowledge, but feeling responsible he reaches out to her. He really is the perfect “guy”. He tries to understand her pain but he also challenges her, protects her, accepts her and he simply loves her.
Through Guy’s love Willow is able to begin to heal herself and her relationship with her brother. It’s not an easy road but bit by bit she’s at least willing to take the chance.
Julia writes Willow’s story in third person (present tense) narrative and because of this choice we are able to feel Willow’s despair watching David struggle with his new responsibilities, feel her desperation to cut to escape the pain and also to feel the hope when Guy enters her life, helping her to take those first tentative steps to healing.
If you are shying away from reading Willow because of the subject matter – don’t. Almost everyone has experienced a sense of isolation or embarrassment in high school and developed coping mechanisms to deal with it. While this story is about a particular set of circumstances, the death of Willow’s parents - her cutting, it’s really about how we all deal with the pain in our lives. It could have just as easily been about overeating, anorexia, or bullying. It is ultimately a book about love and hope, not cutting. I found myself smiling many times and cheering Willow on.
It’s also about romance. As Willow and Guy bond over their shared love of books, she is able to open up to him and to others because of him. They have a tender, powerful and redemptive relationship. Here’s a quote from later in the book and you can see that it’s quite different than the one I chose earlier. Here Willow is speaking to Guy: "But I like to talk to you. Because I can ask you anything, tell you anything, and no matter what I say to you, I know it will be alright” So beautiful!
I recently read a quote by author Denise Jaden (Losing Faith) “Sometimes the power of love doesn’t just change us, it changes our perception and our entire world” and it is so true of this relationship.
Willow is not always an easy read, but I promise you it is uplifting and well worth the effort.
This is a stunning novel by Julia Hoban and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.
Rating: 5 out 4. I know that’s not possible but it’s my blog!
Buy the book: Willow
WILLOW EXTRAS!*My interview with Julia Hoban: HERE