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Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

*Willow* by Julia Hoban- young adult book review  
by Julia Hoban
Ages 16+ 336 pages Dial April 2009 Paperback    

Willow should be a normal, carefree teenager. Instead, she carries around a burden that no one else can understand: she believes that she is responsible for the death of her parents. One rainy night, Willow’s parents had too much to drink and asked her to drive them home. She believes the car accident that killed them was her fault, since she was behind the wheel.

Willow has since started at a new school and moved in with her brother, his wife, and their baby. Money is an ongoing problem in their new household, and Willow has lost the ability to communicate with her brother on any level beyond the superficial. She believes that he blames her for their parents’ death, just as she blames herself.

In order to cope with her deep depression and feelings of guilt, Willow has resorted to an extreme method of controlling her pain: she cuts herself. She believes she has everything under control, allowing herself to feel pain only when she inflicts it upon herself. What she doesn’t count on is Guy, a caring boy who learns her secret and wants to help her. As Guy and Willow’s relationship grows, Willow begins to learn how to deal with the traumatic events of her past and realizes what it means to depend on someone else.

Willow was an incredibly difficult book to read in many ways, but not in a bad way. The cutting and self-mutilation are difficult to read about, as one would expect. Hoban doesn’t shy away from the horrors of what Willow is doing to herself. However, she also tries to make the reader understand Willow’s emotions, and why she resorts to self-mutilation. Though it’s difficult to comprehend the magnitude of Willow’s depression, she is an easy character to sympathize with.

The emotions within Willow are raw. Hoban excels at conveying Willow’s utter despair to the reader, but the book is not depressing. At the beginning of the book, Willow is at her lowest. The novel is about Willow’s recovery and her journey back to emotional health. Watching Willow reach out to Guy as she realizes that he won’t give up on her is very satisfying. Willow’s relationship with her brother is a little more difficult but nonetheless well-written.

Though Willow is technically a young adult book, it is appropriate for adults. Willow is a mature character, and though she makes assumptions too quickly and often is impulsive, she is believable. I don’t think this novel sends the wrong message to teenagers, though I would recommend it for young adults over the age of 16 as a well-written and engaging book about a young girl coping with deep depression. A wonderful novel; highly recommended.
Young adult book reviews for ages 12 and up - middle school and high school students

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