Willow by Julia Hoban

willowTitle:  Willow
Author:  Julia Hoban
Release date:  April 2, 2009
Publisher:  Dial
Pages:  336
Genre:  Young Adult Fiction
Source:  Library

One rainy night, sixteen-year-old Willow was out to dinner with her parents in what she thought was just a regular evening.  When they realized they’d had too much to drink, they asked Willow to drive home – on a learner’s permit.  Unfortunately, Willow wasn’t prepared to drive in the rainy weather they were having, and she ended up crashing the car – killing both of her parents.  The book starts out seven months later, with Willow living with her older brother, his wife, and their baby girl, trying to make sense of her life now that her parents are gone.  Because she blames herself for their deaths, and because her brother is so deep in his own grief he can’t seem to comfort her at all, she resorts to cutting herself to deal with her pain.  One day Willow meets Guy – someone she, inexplicably, trusts with her secret, and they form an extremely strong bond because of that.  But Willow isn’t prepared for Guy’s acceptance, or the fact that he insists she figures out a way to heal.  Willow needs to get healthy, and to do that she needs to not only deal with her pain, but reach out to her brother, and accept the love that Guy is willing to give.

Willow is an extremely powerful, emotional read.  Willow is in so much pain, it is just palpable – you can actually feel her pain as you’re reading her story.  I wanted so desperately to crawl inside the book and give her a big hug and tell her that what happened to her parents was not her fault.  She had so much shame for what happened, so much self-hate that the only thing she could do with all those feelings was to physically harm herself.  And it just made  me so sad, but so hopeful at the same time that at some point throughout the story she would stop.

I really, really liked Guy.  Typically I hate when YA books give the message that all a girl will need is the right guy and all of her problems, no matter how big or small, will go away.  While Willow does sort have that feel, and I was fearful of that exact scenario happening, Guy really isn’t the answer to all of her issues.  He’s simply the catalyst that allows her to start to look for answers within herself.  He pushes her to get better, while at the same time he never stops caring for her despite her imperfections.  In an uncertain world where Willow truly feels alone, he is her rock, the only person she can depend upon.  It’s difficult for me to believe that there are any teen boys as sweet and genuine and loving as Guy, but for the sake of my future daughter(s), I certainly hope there are. 🙂

There were so many scenes in this book that resonated with me.  I never cut myself as a teen, but I had plenty of difficult moments and plenty of times when I honestly hated myself and couldn’t imagine ever feeling better.  I never had an experience nearly as traumatic as Willow’s, but I did a few things that, at the time, I thought were just horrible and caused me to be the worst person alive.  And I was a “good” kid!  But that just goes to show you that anyone who’s ever been a teen can relate to Willow.  The teenage years are difficult if you’re a “normal” kid, but they must be a million times worse for anyone with extraordinarily rough circumstances like Willow’s.  The one scene in particular that was especially poignant was the part with the anorexic girl – it was just such a pivotal moment for Willow, when she finally started to see herself as others see her, and consequently she started to want to get better.

With Willow, Julia Hoban has written an unbelievably powerful book that everyone can appreciate.  This novel is not just about cutting – it is about the meaning of family, the importance of friends, and most of all about having faith and belief in yourself, enough to get through the worst kinds of tragedies.  Willow was an amazing character that really came alive for me in the novel.  I just can’t say enough about this wonderful book!


7 thoughts on “Willow by Julia Hoban”

  1. Great review Heather! I loved this book too, so I’m extra glad you enjoyed it too.

    And I agree about Guy. I hope there is an amazing guy like him out there for my own daughter too!

  2. I loved this book too Heather. In fact, Julia invited me to meet her tonight at Barnes & Noble in Grand Rapids, but due to the driving time, weather, and my son participating in football I wasn’t able to meet up with her. I’m so disappointed because this book is riveting, raw, and amazing. I so wanted to shake her hand!! Your review was fantastic!

  3. I’d read a review of this before but it didn’t mention that Willow had been driving when her parents were killed. No wonder she felt the need to find a way to deal with her pain.

  4. i’m always on the lookout for YA novels that i can recommend to students and my teenage cousins–this one sounds great! i have a soft spot for YA and want to review more of it in the upcoming year. thanks for the great review and suggestion. 🙂

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