Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review and Author Interview: Willow by Julia Hoban

When I heard Willow was a novel about a girl who cuts herself, I expected a very gritty, painful read about a messed up girl with the odds stacked against her. I was wrong. I mean, sure, Willow obviously has destructive tendencies and does cut herself, and those scenes are certainly difficult to read, but Willow herself is a pretty normal suburban girl, surrounded by sympathetic (if somewhat distant) people, who just happens to be visited by tragedy. In fact, I would venture to say that Willow reads like a modern fairy tale about coming to terms with grief.

What Willow must overcome is the misplaced guilt she feels for being the one who was driving in the car wreck that killed her parents. It is this guilt that makes her feel unworthy of grieving in a “normal” way and when the emotional turmoil becomes too much, she numbs it by inflicting physical pain upon herself. Her cutting becomes a silent cry for help which is answered by her own personal Prince Charming, a guy (named Guy) who is so perfect, he seems like someone Willow willed into being. (He’s in high school, yet he’s well read, well traveled, well built, incredibly mature, understanding, and even an advocate of safe sex.)

I had the feeling while reading that Author Julia Hoban knew what it was like to lose a parent. I’ve lost one – my mother – and I can vouch for the authenticity of Willow’s grief. I can totally understand that she felt like a freak around teens that had not yet experienced such a loss, and I think this would be an excellent novel to give to young adults that have recently lost a loved one. The third person narration might be guilty of too much telling, not enough showing, but it does give us a unique insight into Willow’s psyche, and I think that is integral to the story and to understanding why someone would resort to cutting.

Willow doesn’t come out until April 2nd, but I do have an interview with Julia to tide you over until then.

Hi Julia! Thanks for stopping by. I am very curious – what inspired you to write WILLOW? And was it always meant to be a love story?
I wanted to write a book for all of us with self destructive urges, a book that would take a character from a place of self harm to a place of healing, and in doing so possibly make people question their own damaging behaviors. I chose to make WILLOW a cutter because it is a very dramatic and obvious form of self injury, but it could just as easily have been a book about overeating or doing drugs, or even something as innocent as watching too much television. And as far as it being a love story, yes, that was in my mind from the very beginning. Love is, after all, a tremendous healing force.

Yes it is! Can you tell us a bit about your path to publication?
It was very difficult. I’ve done a fair amount of writing one way or another, including quite a few romances under a pseudonym, so when the time came for me to go out and get an agent for WILLOW I had a reasonably significant resume, and I confidently expected to be greeted by the publishing world with open arms!

I am very happy to report that it only took three years, a destroyed manuscript, a smashed computer and a husband who threatened to leave if he so much heard the name Willow again, before I got an agent to read my book. My heart really goes out to other writers who are facing the same kind of rejection. It’s not easy and it’s not fun, but STICK WITH IT!!

Are there certain issues that you feel are underrepresented that you’d like to see covered in a novel?
I think there’s a tremendous amount of room for more Gay and Lesbian literature, especially in the YA genre. One of the wonderful things about YA lit is that it can provide a voice for those who are too often unheard. There are many teens who are struggling with the issue of sexual identity, who are not in a situation where they can safely discuss their feelings, books on this topic might well be the only ally that they have.

By the way, I noticed that you asked your readers this question recently, and I was interested to see that several of them brought up the issue of looks, of physical beauty, and how unrealistically some characters are described. I wonder if you noticed that I never describe any of the characters in my book? There were many, many reasons for this, but one of them was that I didn’t want Willow’s ability to attract love to be predicated on her looks in any way.

I did notice that, though you did describe Guy's strong arms, so I always had it in my mind that he was hot (or at least not a lazy slob). I really enjoyed Willow and Guy's conversations about mythology and anthropology in your novel. What is your favorite Greek myth? Why? And if you were an anthropologist, what country would you want to go to?
I couldn’t name a favorite myth! There are too many that I love! But I will say that I chose to focus on Persephone in the book, because it does have particular resonance for me. Persephone deals with redemption, yes, but the story is also tempered with a great deal of sadness, Persephone’s life is forever changed, and some of those changes are not for the best. WILLOW itself is like that. Willow finds salvation through her relationship with Guy, but her life is still far from perfect, and she must learn to live with that --- without resorting to cutting.

As for what country I would like to visit --- who could resist Turkey? Could you imagine seeing the ruins of Troy? Not only that but Turkey is also home to Catal Huyuk, the birthplace of the first mirrors which Guy and Willow discuss.

I went on a day trip to Ephesus in Turkey - and that was amazing! Changing gears... We’ve discussed The Houdini Girl by Martyn Bedford – you loved it, I thought it was OK. Why should I give it a second chance? And what novels did you read years ago that you might like better now?
Not every book speaks to every person. But sometimes we don’t respond to books because of where we are emotionally when we read them, and of course that is something that is fluid and flexible. I know that part of your problem with THE HOUDINI GIRL was that you found it hard to believe the main character’s transformation. How could this tremendously flawed man morph from magician to super detective after losing the woman that he loved? You certainly make a point, but isn’t it also true that his transformation is a wonderful testament to the ways in which relationships can change us? I wonder if you went back to it now if you might view the protagonist a little differently.

As for myself, I can tell you that one of my favorite books, GAUDY NIGHT, was one that I hated at first! I originally read it when I was fifteen, and I simply couldn’t relate to the struggles that the main character was going through. I couldn’t understand why this character had such resistance to marrying a perfectly wonderful man. But I read it again in college, and I could see how a strong independent woman, particularly a woman in the nineteen thirties could view marriage as an impediment, as a renunciation of dreams rather than the ultimate fulfillment. It’s a marvelous book, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I’ve never been to NYC, but I’m going this August. Jennifer Banash recently gave me some awesome tips, can you top hers?
I can’t top hers! In fact I’m indebted to Jennifer, it never occurred to me that you could go to the top of the Chrysler building, and I intend to do so immediately. I can say I hope that you have an absolutely wonderful time, that the weather isn’t too hot, and that when you visit the Strand you recognize it as the bookstore in WILLOW! And finally, you must also visit Partners and Crime, the independent bookstore where I first found THE HOUDINI GIRL, and GAUDY NIGHT. It is a must for any visitor to New York, and especially for a lover of books like yourself.

Thanks Julia!

By the way, I am participating in Lauren's contest in support of Willow. Just by buying the book and sending in the receipt, you are entered to win a huge prize pack donated by various bloggers which includes 14 books, $65 in bookstore gift cards and other goodies. And if you don't win, you'll still have a great book to read. Interested? Get all the details here. (Deadline is April 30, 2009)

30 comments:

Dawn - She is Too Fond of Books said...

Great review and interview, Lenore. I don't think I'd put *Willow* in front of my 12-yr-old (I'm in denial about her pending entry into the teenage years!), but I'm sure she'll find it on her own :)

I feel like you really helped us to know Julia with your interview questions ... and I didn't know you could go to the top of the Chrysler Building either!

Lenore said...

Dawn - She may be a bit young yet (the book says for 14+) but if she did find it, I wouldn't worry too much. The topic is handled very sensitively.

Alea said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed it Lenore! I also really liked the interview! :D

Insert Book Title Here said...

Great review and excellent interview!

bermudaonion said...

I really want to read this one. I enjoyed the NYC tips, too, since I'm going in May. The Strand is definitely on my must do list. Partners and Crime sounds good too. I'm afraid of heights, so I think I'll skip the Chrysler Building.

GreenBeanTeenQueen said...

This interview has made me really interested in picking this one up now! Thanks!

Amanda said...

Awesome interview and review!
Now I wanna read Willow even more...!!!

Keri Mikulski said...

Excellent interview, Lenore and Julia. :) WILLOW sounds wonderful.

Christina Farley said...

Great interview and inspiring story of Willow and Julia's own personal journey as a writer. Thanks for sharing!

stephanie said...

gave you an award!

Shooting Stars Mag said...

1. Amazing review and interview. I love Julia and Willow is absolutely fab!

2. There should be more GLBT lit, especially for teens. I do agree.

3. The bookstore was The Strand? Aw, it makes me want to visit there even MORE now. Stupid NYC...they get all the cool things. LOL

4. Buy the book. Enter the contest everyone. :O) You know you want tooooo.

-Lauren

Staci said...

Lenore, that review knocked my socks off!! I'm really looking forward to reading this book but I think I'm just going to direct everyone to your review from my blog..LOL!!! The questions you asked Julia were outstanding and I would have to agree with her in regards to Gay/Lesbian/Transgender themes in books for YA that need to be addressed. Too many times I've had students come to me looking for something like this and because of the higher ups those are the "type" of books they DON'T want on the shelves. I've given students lists of books that I think they would find helpful and to let them know that they're not alone and most importantly, they're not crazy for having these feelings. I've had to fight to keep Speak,Cut, and so many other books on my shelves. We have cutters in the middle school..people need to wake-up! I will certainly be recommending this book to many of my 8th grade students!!

Donna said...

Award, you has one.

BookChic said...

Great review and interview! I do agree with Julia. There does need to be more GLBT literature in the YA section. I think I might talk about it a bit in my vlog for Seven Book Babes this week! :) It's a good topic.

Thao said...

Woah the road the release of Willow seemed full of difficulties, I'm glad Julia made it!

Beth Kephart said...

This is the second time in two days that I've read an author of a very well-received book talk about the number of years it took to gain publication. I am heartened by the faith these authors have in their work, and I learn from it.

S. Krishna said...

Great review. I have a copy of this one sitting on my shelf.

Pissenlit said...

Great interview, you two! The book sounds really interesting and I love the cover! And ooh, Persephone! Good myth!

Mishel said...

This is a really great post Lenore! Definitely makes me want to read Willow even more. I'm excited to recieve it at the beginning of April!!

Laina said...

I actually bookmarked a page a while ago, hold on, let me see if I could find it... here.

Ladytink_534 said...

I might have to see about getting this one!

Erica said...

Great interview and review!! It makes me want to read Willow even more!! I'm dying to read it :P

Joanne said...

Great review and interview! I agree what the author said about needing more GLBT lit for young adults. I think it's especially important to show kids that what they're going through isn't wrong or unusual. Along the same lines I think there needs to be more books that address the issue of 'cutting' - there are hundreds out there about eating disorders, but not many about self-injury even though it is a very common problem with teens.

Shalonda said...

I haven't read Willow, but I sure am planning to purchase it this week!

Julia Hoban is just so funny and sweet and personable and I really could just go on!

Great interview, Lenore!

drothfeld said...

Thanks for the interview and the review. I am definitely going to bookstore when it comes out. I think kids in the high school where I work will be able to relate to her.

Being a NYer I did know you can go to the top of the Chrysler building. I wanted to add a tip - a food tip - If you like chinese food, Lucky Chengs is the place to go (as long as you are not ultra conservative that is) and if you want the best macaroni and cheese in the world go to Chat & Chews in Union Square

Lenore said...

Thanks for your tips drothfeld!

Max Brown said...

This book sounds really interesting. I'll make sure to check it out next time I'm at Barnes and Noble. And props to Julia - three years is a LONG time to stick with something. That must've taken a lot of discipline.

Maya Ganesan said...

I want to read this so badly! Must. read.

Wrighty said...

I keep hearing the best things about this book and after reading this interview I understand why. It has so much to offer and I was impressed by how hard Julia worked to write and publish it. I always like hearing the story behind the story as well.

I have to go to NY city someday. I've never been but I would go just for the bookstores! Great job Lenore! Your questions were excellent and made the book even more desirable. I can't wait to read it!

Martha said...

For a third entry in your latest book give-a-way contest, I browsed your author interviews and was pleased to come across this one. Very well done! Your interviewing style is pretty natural and the author had a ton of interesting insights. It was great to hear about why she wrote parts of the novel the way she did -- the part about not describing characters' looks was particularly interesting.
Great post!