This Willow won’t weep…yet

Willow by Julia Hoban; published by Dial Books, a member of the Penguin Group, New York, 2009; 329 pages.

Willow killed her parents, plain and simple; at least to her, it’s clear cut.  They were out to dinner, her parents wanted a second bottle of wine, and had her drive home in the pouring rain, and she only had her learner’s permit.  She survived the fatal crash, or did she?  Now she lives with her brother David, his wife, Cathy, and their baby, Isabelle.  In addition to her school obligations, high school junior Willow also works part-time at the university library.  One fateful afternoon, she meets Guy.  That is the turning point in her life.  They have so much in common…and an unusual bond.  Willow has learned to cope with her survivor’s guilt by cutting, and Guy finds out early in their friendship.  Although he feels responsible for her safety (he thinks she has been trying to commit suicide), Willow learns to trust him, care for him, and even allow him to bear some of the burden she feels.  As the book ends, she is able to cry (something that the cutting was meant to stifle) and to love again.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the story, and the insight into a cutter’s mind, I thought the character of Guy was too good to be true.  However, in order to move the story along, I can understand that the author chose a single character to fulfill most of her protagonist’s needs; but will teen girls understand that this is not a typical situation?  In some regards, this book reminds me of the Twilight series in its unrealistic and unhealthy portrayal of relationships.  But Willow offers so much more, including a believable teen heroine.  Even if Guy is a bit too knight-in-shining-armor, the story of the lifestyle of a cutter is very interesting.  Another issue I had with the book was, I believe, my own problem.  I’ve read so many YA books lately that are written journal-style, from the protagonists’ point of view, that this third-person limited narrative was hard to adjust to.  I felt that sometimes the narrative was forced.  Perhaps writing the novel from Willow’s point of view would have overcome that issue; as it was, Willow was the focal character.

The theme of cutting worked its way into the cover art and the chapter headings.  The cover is a picture of a girl, partly hidden behind her hair, and the picture has been slashed and haphazardly reassembled.  The slashing marks are carried over at the beginning of each chapter as well.  After reading Wintergirls, I couldn’t help but compare the two stories of self-destructive behavior.  Willow‘s story flowed much easier for me; I did not stumble over piles of metaphors and similes.  However, I think Wintergirls‘ characters were more developed.  I enjoyed both books, but I think that teens, especially girls, will prefer the style and romance of Willow more.

4P     3Q     Grade Level: 8-12

willowCover Art: As stated earlier, the slashed image of the girl on the cover will definitely appeal to teens and generate interest.  In addition, the slashed type of the title on the spine was easy to read and discover from the books on the shelves.

Suggested Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)

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Is Wintergirls a snow job?

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson; published by Viking, New York, 2009; 278 pages.

Lia’s long-time best friend Cassie is dead.  She died alone in a motel room.  She called Lia 33 times before dying, and Lia never answered her phone.  Guilt.  Pain.  Self-loathing.  Lia struggles with all three.  Her coping mechanism is to starve herself and cut.  Cassie haunts her, urging her to join her on the other side.  But Cassie’s parting words, passed on to Lia by a vagrant teen who worked at the motel, were that Lia won their bet: to be the skinniest girl at school.  These final words, and a chilling showdown with a ghost at a motel, seem to provide the turning point in Lia’s life.  Wintergirls ends with Lia in therapy, for the third time, apparently making an effort to get better.

Anderson employs some unusual techniques to give us a more vivid picture of Lia and her motivations.  For example, the chapter titles are printed like a digital read-out on a bathroom scale.  Also, Lia’s inner voice is presented as either strike-through text or right-justified small print, which her conscious mind overrides with more politically-correct and/or anorexically-correct verbiage.  In addition, the condition of Lia’s starved brain is painfully apparent in Anderson’s writing.  I’ve read three of Anderson’s novels now, and I enjoy her almost stream-of-consciousness style, presenting information in a diary-like format.

In this book, the lyrical prose is vivid but felt out of context for a story about deprivation and self-denial.  For example, chapter 6 totally pulled me in and gave me a wide-screen image of Lia and her inner turmoil because it was written in an in-your-face style, holding no punches and not pushing metaphors and similes through Lia’s consciousness.  Other chapters lapsed away from the story, seeming to focus all our attention on the metaphors of Lia’s condition.  I often felt that one metaphor (that of the thorny vines creeping from the floor, up the furniture, and tightly tethering Lia in pain) should have been consistently used throughout the story.  Yes, it was used several times, but then other metaphors were introduced, and only once each, and I was distracted from the rhythm of the story.

I did enjoy the story even though I seem to have found more faults with it than in many of the other books I’ve read.  Anderson’s craft is well-honed, but may have been tested by the subject matter.  The agonies and horrors of anorexia and cutting were vividly depicted, even to the point of providing a glimpse into the psyche of a starved brain.  Perhaps editing the extra metaphors would have been prudent.  So is this book a “snow job?”  I don’t think so.  Although it has its faults, overall the story was believable and chilling, providing me with a little glimpse inside the world of eating disorders.

Because I don’t have expertise in the area of eating disorders, I won’t comment on the impact this book might have on young adults who do or do not have anorexia, bulemia, or other disorders.  By the way, rumor has it that this is a Michael L. Printz Award nominee for 2010.

4P     4Q     Grade Level: 8-12

wintergirlsCover Art: A gaunt face peers through a glittery iced window; that, combined with the title, should appeal to teen girls for sure.  The font is interesting, and stands out in white on the dark spine.  I think the cover would appeal to teen girls.

From Reading List: Keepin’ It Real (Realistic Fiction)

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