Sunday, December 13, 2009

WILLOW by Julia Hoban

Yes, I've finally gotten around to reading this one. Ever since the first review was posted about WILLOW, I've been excited to read it, and now I can say I've done it. It was good, but not as good as I was anticipating. Maybe it was all the hoopla about it that got me hoping for something a bit more compelling. That said, I still enjoyed it, and I know many other readers will, too.

Willow is a cutter, and she has every reason to be one. If the idea of cutting is to feel physical pain in order not to feel emotional pain, then she is the perfect example of someone who needs that sort of release. Willow was driving the car the night both her parents were killed. Talk about emotional baggage!

Now an orphan living with her older brother, his wife, and their infant daughter, Willow is attempting to put her life back together. She's attending a new school and trying to catch up on her studies, and all she can think of is how everyone must know about the accident and consider her a killer. Her incredible guilt won't allow her to face her brother and talk about the pain he must be feeling, too. Instead, she keeps it all inside, using a razorblade to control the feelings she can't express aloud.

While working at the library job her brother arranged for her at the college where he teaches, she meets Guy. He recognizes her from school and the fact that he has taken a class her brother taught. For a few short moments during their conversation, she is able to relax and even laugh for the first time in seven months. Hesitantly, she begins a friendship with Guy, but when he discovers her secret cutting, his insistent pressure for her to stop is almost more than the fragile friendship can withstand.

Readers will follow Willow as she struggles to adjust to the massive changes in her life and come to terms with her part in her parents’ death. She is desperate to reconnect with her brother but is afraid he will never forgive her as he is forced to take on the role of parent and provider. Several new classmates, as well as Guy, try to reach out to Willow, but she doesn't make it easy when they attempt to include her in their circle. Her guilt increases as her grades spiral downward and her need to cut becomes an obsession.

Author Julia Hoban vividly describes Willow's cutting so readers are able to feel her uncontrollable need to suffer physical pain as a method to relieve her anxiety. Some many interpret the graphic description and the constant references to cutting as over-the-top, but just like any behavior used to control unwanted emotion; it is an ever-present part of life for a character like Willow. I appreciated that Guy didn't play the role of "knight in shining armor" hoping to whisk Willow away from her pain and solve all her problems. Hoban had him step forward to offer support but step back when Willow needed space. Although, her supposed recovery comes after only one heartfelt conversation with her brother, I felt hopeful that things would indeed improve for Willow, and that she would eventually resume a healthy and relatively happy life.

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