Willow by Julia Hoban
My rating: 2 of 5 stars ("Eh...It was okay")
This book started at four stars for me. Willow was a sweet, likable character whose experience in losing a parent at a young age is relatable for me. Some of the wisdom she shares about the power of grief and awkward condolences and peer relationships are so incredibly true, well-stated, and sensitive. At first I thought it would be a book about cutting. Then I thought it would be a book about grief. Then I saw how neatly they were intertwined for Willow, and I admired that feat.
Now, Willow was likable, but I wasn't always sure she was entirely believable. Having lengthy literary discussions at the age of 16? Pretty rare. It really appealed to my inner English major nerd, but I don't know that even I would have had a conversation like that at the age of 16. It was then I began to have doubts about these characters.
Willow lost a star rating when she just wouldn't stop whining. I'm sorry, but that's it. Putting aside the grief and and the guilt she feels, we get a LOT of whining from Willow. It is a pet peeve for me when characters torture themselves needlessly because of their own refusal to communicate with another character. Willow could have spared herself a lot of pain and loneliness if she had confronted her brother early on about the change in their relationship. Instead, she "tests" him in subtle ways, evaluating his responses in an attempt to read his mind. That really, REALLY bugged me.
The other slight qualm I had was the fact that Willow & Guy manage to have sex without ever actually saying the word or any euphemism for it. Same goes for the use of a condom. I realize teens will be teens but honestly -- if you aren't even mature enough to SAY sex (or even use a euphemism! "make love" "sleep with", etc.) then you probably shouldn't be having sex. But that's just a drop in the bucket. By that point, the book had already dropped a star and had lost another half.
I rounded down to a two because my concern is that there's a subtle message of "get a boyfriend, solve your problems!" here. Numerous times I wondered if this would be better with a female friend or even a completely platonic male friend accompanying her on her journey. I just think it's a dangerous pit that hurting teens fall into - they can't rely on leaning on someone else to solve their problems.
Recommend: Generally, No. More sensitive-teen types will appreciate Willow, but few adults or more pragmatic teens.
Topics Discussed: Cutting/Self-Mutilation, Death, Grief
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