Seven months ago, on a rainy March night, sixteen year- old Willow’s parents died in a horrible car accident. Willow was driving. Now her older brother barely speaks to her, her new classmates know her as the killer orphan girl, and Willow is blocking the pain by secretly cutting herself. But when one boy—one sensitive, soulful boy—discovers Willow’s secret, it sparks an intense relationship that turns the “safe” world Willow has created for herself upside down.
Willow is to YA book reviewers what "Don't Stop Believin'" is to kareoke enthusiast. Everyone's read it, everyone's reviewed it and everyone, most importantly, has loved it. And I figured, y'know, what type of blogger am I if I haven't even referenced the thing in the entire year I've been running this site? Not a very good one, I answer. So when I saw Willow sitting desolately on my friend Alyssa's bookshelf, right for the pickin's, I felt it was my patriotic duty to give it a go.
Here's the problem:
I have no tolerence for whiney people.
In fact, I abhore them.
I can not tell you how tiresome this makes YA reviewing for me. It's constantly, ah me! I'm such a loser! no one likes me! I have daddy issues! life is such a big pile of suck! Wah. And I'm like, yup, the starving children in Haiti just feel so frikken sorry for you, you yeller-belly. Get a blog and flood the internets why don't you. Now, seventy percent of the time, I'm able to dodge this silliness with well written characters and coherent plots. And, really, it's not like I'm not guilty of the occasional temper tantrum. In fact, most things coming from my mouth is some kind of complaint or another (actually, it's prodominetly burps, but I digress.) I mask it with self-awareness. I make it clear you are about to enter a pointlessly angsty area, enter at your own risk. I know. Everyone should know.
Willow doesn't know.
So, I'm telling you know; when you pick up this book, you will encounter angst. And butthurt. And self-pity. Yes, there's also a cute little romance and self-mutilation and self-discovery, but the entire ride is filled with Woe Is Me so, I tell you now, no matter how high a rating I give this book, it is an angst fest.
Willow killed her parents. Not for reals, but she had way to close a hand in their deaths that, in her opinion, she might as well have. Why else would her brother cringe at the sight of her? Why else would she be haunted by this overwhelming guilt? Why else would life suck so hard? So, has the summary would tell you, she starts cutting herself to deal with shit. Apparently, her arms are two giant scabs.
She hides this from her older brother, who, along with his wife, ahd taken her in after the death of their parents to live alongside them and their baby. She detaches herself from just about everyone, even her best friend from her old school, and is content with just hiding out until high school's over and she can move out on her own, away from the imagined hatred in her brother's eyes. But, oneday! she meets this dude who's way too perfect to be a believable love interest. He loves the abscure, anthropology-tastic reading her entire family bathes in, he's polite, humble, sweet, handsome and has ressurected chivalry from the grave. So, naturally, Willow creams herself at the thought of him, but is likewise repulsed by the idea of having a normal life. She let's it slip that she "killed [her] parents" and, yup, he discovers the scars up and down her arms (pretty quickly, to his credit). It's this super weird scene that follows, him dropping her arm and running to the university where her brother works, presumably to spill the beans. Willow chases after him and subsequently offers to fuck him in exchange for keeping his mouth shut (it's said much more elegantly, I assure you). He's all like, ew shut yo mouth. Then he starts complaining that god, he didn't ask for this! Now what's he supposed to do? and she's all like dude! you could just drop it and leave me the hellz alone! and he's like, no I can't because I'll feel guilty and you could hurt yourself! and I'm like *swoon* because, dudes, he hardly knows her and he's all concerned for her safety and shit. It's cheesy as hell but it's just so, so sweet that he's no bullshitting around but at the same time he's being all protective and I was just like, man, I am not gonna find that in Jersey, lemme tell you.
So now Willow's trying to deal with school, and this crush who has her downfall in the palm of his hand, her brother, her dead parents, and her uncontrollable need to slice herself to shreds. Again, angst.
I don't know Hoban's backsstory in writing this, but the story definetly gave off the impression that it was written with a child psychology book next to the keyboard. Everything rang off as false and forced, with these hyper-mature teenagers that talk like Cormac McCarthey's prose. I was having a hella hard time relating to Willow just because she really was spending all her time going buck-wild at her pity party. It was just so...gah, bitch.
Moving plot aside, there really wasn't much to say about any of the character's personality. Everything they did seemed to contradict the label Willow provided for them to point where I was mostly thinking Willow herself was a horrible judge of character. In fact, she was also just kind of a...horrible character. Yes, she grows and develops and suchwhich, but the entire time she seems to only exist for cutting--not in the way where it displays how serious it is or whatever, but in the way where everything everyone does means they're on to her ohshyt!!! I don't cut myself, but I'm sure if I did there would be other things crossing my mind other then, waaaait a second that teacher wants to speak to me in private he knoes OH NOES! It got to that really awkward point in novels such as these where everything was just so repetitive and rather boring. And that is not something you want said for your teen novel, Ms. Hoban. Especially when teens have the attention span of a coked-out squirrel.
Overall, I can sort of get the hype surrounding Willow, but it just wasn't my cup of hot sauce.
Also: There was one thought going through my head as I was reading Willow; the explicity in which the author describes the titular character's scars are just so graphic. And I know that this is common practice when it comes to books about beaten and abused teens to kind of push the point to the forefront. And I also know that there are a lot of adult bloggers out there, many with children, who can not handle reading about kids like there's in these horrible situations. I myself, being a desensitized child growing up in the age of Tarantino and American Pie, find most of the grossness in YA kind of softcore, but still, it leaves me wondering; is there some kind of limit when writing about teen violence? Like, with movies there's always a big fit when kids are graphically raped or whatever, a bigger one when it's in books. And sometimes, it just seems to gratutious to be anything other then Torture Porn. There are some pedos out there who live for these kinds of scenes. And there are parents who are quick as hell to call out an author or filmmaker who seems to enjoy their jobs way too much. So should there be like, I don't know, warning stickers on the covers or books to avoid the issue? Or should author's refrain from gross-out kid torture to begin with?
PS: look at this doodle I found in my old math notebook from seventh grade.