Willow by Julia Hoban

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Willow by Julia Hoban

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: A moving story about young love tempered by grief and its coping mechanisms. The central character self-harms and there are some shocking but tremendously illuminating scenes, but the essential and uplifting message is that love can conquer all.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 224 Date: April 2009
Publisher: Dial
ISBN: 0803733569

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Willow is living with her brother and his wife and baby. Money is tight, so her part-time job at the library isn't going on herself; it's going towards the bills. But Willow doesn't mind; it's the least she can do since she's such become such a burden after the death of her parents in a car crash one rainy night seven months ago. And Willow doesn't only see herself as a burden. She sees herself as a killer too, since she was driving the car that killed them. She's convinced that her brother sees her as a murderer.

With grieving too painful to bear, Willow needs an outlet. So she cuts herself. Severely. And the cutting becomes an addiction, so soon Willow is falling behind in class and resorting to more and more deception, as she struggles to keep her secret to herself. When Guy stumbles on it, Willow is at a crossroads...

According to a study by the University of Bath, eleven percent of adolescent girls and three percent of adolescent boys in Britain self-harm. About two-thirds of them cut. Isn't that shocking? Doesn't it make you want to weep? And you'll weep for Willow, so consumed with grief and guilt the only way to block it out lies in mutilating herself. Hoban doesn't duck the horror - there are some shocking scenes written into Willow, but they are tremendously honest and revealing. For many cutters, the act is a beautiful thing. It's certainly addictive. It's often a response to transient distress, but the addiction turns it into something even more frightening. Willow thinks about cutting constantly, and her stress thresholds are getting lower. It doesn't take much to set her off.

But Willow isn't just about self-harm. It's also about first love, and the redemptive power of love generally. When Guy happens along, Willow is presented with a way out. The question is can she trust enough to take it. The love affair is beautifully told, with great observation of all the worries and insecurities adolescents - self-harming or not - bring to any relationship. It's about secrets too - and how destructive they can be. Willow is convinced that her brother blames her for her parents' death, but of course he has grief of his own, and it isn't directed at his sister. As she learns to trust Guy, Willow finds she is also able to trust her brother, and to begin to open those healing lines of communication.

It's a painful subject, but Willow is skilfully told. The essential and uplifting message, is that not every problem can be solved, but there is no bad situation that cannot be improved. Recommended.

My thanks to the nice people at Dial for sending the book.

From Where I Stand by Tabitha Suzuma is a psychological thriller that has, unusually, a male protagonist who self-harms. Sara's Face by Melvin Burgess has self-harm meeting cosmetic surgery addiction in a dystopian and shocking exploration of our attitudes to identity.

Buy Willow by Julia Hoban at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Willow by Julia Hoban at Amazon.co.uk

Buy Willow by Julia Hoban at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Willow by Julia Hoban at Amazon.com.


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