Willow by Julia Hoban

Willow goes to live with her older brother and his family after a tragic car accident in which her parents were killed. Feeling that everyone must view her as a killer, since she was the one driving the car the night her parents died, she has distanced herself from her former life and friends.  To complicate matters, Willow and her brother barely speak and she feels that his having to raise her is a strain on his new family’s resources.  Willow’s sole pleasure is experienced when she indulges in cutting herself until by chance 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 tragic and drastically 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 very real rendering of a family who is in deep pain, and 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 that were a result of their not communicating with each other.

Hoban adeptly 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 that he handled his response to her situation.

Hoban delicately and skillfully 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.


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