Book Review: Willow

Willow by Julia Hoban
Release Date: April 2009 
Pages: 336 

It’s been seven months since Willow has allowed herself to feel. Seven months since she was the driver during a tragic car accident that took her parents’ lives. Unable to bear the grief or guilt, Willow finds a new way to cope with the pain through cutting. At a new school and living with her older brother, no one knows the secrets her arms would tell. No one, that is, until Guy. The only one to know the ugly truth, Guy promises not to tell anyone her secret. But as strangers turn to friends to even more, Willow discovers that Guy’s love will push her beyond the safe, numb world she created. And amongst it all, she’ll have to decide which she loves me: Guy or the razors?

The Short of It: Liked it, but didn’t love it. Although, I would be hard pressed at anytime to say I loved a book about cutting. Hoban does a good job at handling the difficult situations. A few things did bother me, but nothing to make me dislike the book. An easy recommendation for those who like the nitty gritty issue books.

Plot: This is one of those low action, high emotions books. Where the day to day activities are not exciting, but the emotional struggle is what keeps you reading. While Willow deals with cutting, it is not the heart and soul of the book. It is more about grief and coming to terms with an overwhelming loss. About those months after and how a person learns to cope with the pain. An honest view into the world of grief, guilt, cutting, and the consequences it has on cutters and those that love them.

Characters: I had a bit of trouble loving Willow as a character. Most of the time I just wanted to shake her, hoping it would knock some sense into her. I found myself becoming annoyed at how she convinced herself that her own self-loathing/guilt was how others saw her. Even when others showed kindness repeatedly, she was still so hesitant to believe that they weren’t out to hurt her. However, I can’t say I hated Willow all the time. When she relaxed around Guy, I got a glimpse of what the old Willow must have been like. She was quite charming, intelligent, and caring. I only wish I could have seen much, much more of her.

Now Guy….well, Guy I basically loved. He’s that guy who will always have your back no matter what time you call. The type that girls go to mushy romance movies to sigh and dream over. My only problem with Guy is that he kept Willow’s secret. Here’s this girl he hardly knows and he promises not to tell anyone about her self-mutilation? Ok, so maybe as a stranger you wouldn’t care, but I tend to believe that Guy did from the first moment. And you see the signs how deeply he cares the more they get to know each other. Maybe he really thought he could heal her? Or maybe I’m just expecting too much out of a teenager? I’ve never been in that situation myself, but I would hope I would have enough courage to help that friend seek professional help. I just feel so torn on this point. Anyone else feel this way about Guy?

Romance: The romance between Guy and Willow is full of contradictions. If you look at it one way it’s a completely healthy, normal teenage love. Yet, at the same time, it’s built around something that is very unhealthy and causes both physical and emotional stress. And I still haven’t decided if I think Guy is insane or admirable. To willing walk into a relationship that involves someone who is such a wreck is mind boggling. I don’t know that I would ever have the strength to do it myself. Relationships are so difficult as it is without adding in all the elements Willow was battling. Although, Guy really was a perfect boyfriend. While the cutting obviously bothered him, he never allowed it to hinder his ability to be there when she needed him. And he almost always seemed to know the right things to say or do to help Willow inch closer to her old self.

The only issue I really have with their romance is the message is sends. That Willow can throw away the razors because she loves Guy that much. What happens when the romance ends? What if Guy breaks her heart? Will she go back to the razors who have been so faithful before? I’m just so worried that Willow is not truly free of this habit. That if things get to be too much, she’ll pick them right back up. I guess that’s also the reason why I wish Guy would have told her brother. I keep thinking that Willow really could benefit from professional help (even without the cutting issue!) and that without it she’ll never fully heal. I can only hope that down the line Guy will urge her to get that extra help she needs.

Writing: I really have no complaints in this category. The third person present tense did throw me off a bit, but after a while I was able to ignore with only the occasional distraction. I will warn that it does give off a distant and detached vibe. However, it works well as a reflection of how Willow herself is. It allows a reader to understand Willow a little better without actually being in her mind. The other thing I really noticed was how mature Hoban’s writing was. This is by no means a bad thing, but I often felt like I was reading a literature book and not an YA novel. It was quite nice to see, even if it meant I had to read a little slower!

Librarian-Mode: No problems here. I think this will be an easy sell to those teens who like the issue books. Those who adore Ellen Hopkins, Wintergirls, or any of the other down and dirty books will snatch this one up in a heart beat. I already had a copy in at my main library, but after finishing it I made sure to order a second copy for my branch. While Willow deals with some serious issues, I’ll have no hesitation recommending it to my teens. It’s one that I’m sure to push more in the future.

Ok, now it’s your turn! Have you read Willow? If so, what did you think?

8 thoughts on “Book Review: Willow

  1. I’m one of those people that is totally squeamish around blood, so I was afraid to read Willow… but there only ended up being one part of the book where I had to put it down and take a few deep breaths (this is not an exaggerations btw!). I really appreciated that Julia Hoban didn’t go too into detail about the actual cutting… I couldn’t have handled that.

    I agree with your point that Guy should have told Willow’s brother about her cutting. It would have shown teens that it is okay to ask for help… that you don’t have to do it alone.

    Otherwise I really enjoyed this book as well…. and I’m actually meeting Julia this Friday and can’t wait! 🙂


  2. I haven’t actually read Willow yet, but I have Acting Normal by Hoban.

    I’m not sure how I feel about issue books, on the one hand it’s great for people who deal with issues, on the other, I get worried that the books get preachy, strange as that sounds.

    I feel I shall have to obtain Willow soon, your review was pretty fantastic and in-depth!


  3. I don’t think that you’re expecting too much from a teenager (that they go and ask for help for someone else), but I think that teenagers also think they have better control over the situations than they actually do. I felt like while I didn’t agree with Guy’s choice, I agreed that it was the choice for the character.

    I’m worried about Willow’s future — you’re right. She doesn’t grow enough to be okay if/when Guy leaves her; if/when something else horrible happens. But I have faith that Guy will get her to counseling eventually.


  4. I’m 13. and Willow is by far one of the best books I have ever read. I am in love with it, I read it over and over. I just can’t get enough. and in my opinion it needs to made into a movie. It would actually be a really good movie.


  5. I am a 15 year old boy, and I have not yet read Willow, but it is the favorite book of the girl that I like, and I honestly say that I want to be her Guy, no matter the consequences. She has told me that she cuts herself, and I still want to be with her. Boys like me do exist, if anyone cares to look.


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