Willow by Julia Hoban
Willow has to an extremely unsettling tragedy to live with. When her parents were too buzzed on alcohol to drive, Willow was handed the task of getting them home safely. Unfortunately, the only one who survives the drive home is Willow. Now she beats herself up repeatedly for the death of her mom and dad. When the pain gets to be too much to bear, she becomes a cutter. She has to wear long sleeves even when it's hot outside because she is terrified that someone will figure out her secret.
While working in the university library, Willow meets a guy named Guy. He doesn't know how to take all of the "go away" vibes that Willow is sending his way. For a little while, she forgets about mentally abusing herself and actually has an honest conversation with him. Soon though, the torment resurfaces. Guy isn't going to walk away easily, he won't back down. Will Willow deprive herself of a true and genuine person or will she fall victim to his charm and live happily ever after?
I became engrossed in this book after the first couple of pages. As a person who suffers from depression, I found this book to be right on target with personality and mental abuse that can be done to oneself. Julia is a true genius whose book has the power to touch even the hardest heart.
Getting To Know Julia:
When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?
I don’t know that I ever sat down and said “I want to be a writer.” It’s more that the time came when I could no longer avoid making that choice. I’ve been writing since I could hold a crayon, and in fact submitted my first “professional” effort at the age of eight. I entered a poem in a contest --- and came in 39th out of a field of 40. But although I always wrote and always wanted to write, I had several detours on the way to working as a professional. First I went to grad school in physics and philosophy, which although fascinating was not the most direct route towards becoming a writer…. I tell you all this to encourage those among your readers who themselves are considering a writing career, but who haven’t yet made the jump. That’s OK! Not everyone is able to pursue their dreams right away. Sometimes life gets in the way, practical decisions have to be made, or the idea of following an unconventional path seems too daunting. But that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be able to make that choice, and in fact, sometimes the paths that you take on the way to that choice (in my case physics) will be of greater use to you than you realize.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Well. I have many inspirations. There are people whose stories have affected me at different times, and for different reasons. I’ve always adored Julia Child, and I simply worship Thomas Jefferson and Isaac Newton. But, when I was working on Willow, the person whose story really kept me going was Madeline L’engle. I don’t know if you ever read A Wrinkle in Time, but you really should, immediately! Here’s a book that went on to become a classic of juvenile literature, yet the book, and its author (L’engle) went through the worst rejection on the path to publication. Willow also was not an easy sell, and during the worst of my setbacks, I often thought of Ms L’engle.
How do you create the characters in your books? Are they based on people you know?
My characters are certainly an amalgam of my imagination, and people that I know. Many readers have asked me if I’ve ever met anyone as “perfect” as Guy. (Their words, not mine!) And my answer is always “Reader I married him!” Guy is indeed based on my husband, I have to stop saying that though, as every time my husband hears that he gets more and more conceited!
What is the one book you think everyone should read?
There is no one book specifically. Many of my readers ask for recommendations, and I often give several. I think every young woman should read Tess, by Thomas Hardy. I like to see the high school students who get in touch with me read The Glass Menagerie, by Tennessee Williams. Few American writers used language or tore at the heart strings the way Williams did. I suggest The Railway Children by Edith Nesbitt to people of all ages, and I don’t know how people get through the day without a good Sherlock Holmes story.
If you weren’t a writer, what be your profession?
Well, as I mentioned before, I went to graduate school in physics and philosophy, and some part of me could see going back to school. Then I remember how much homework was involved and I shudder! I do quite a bit of design one way or another --- my own clothes, and I’ve done some furniture, so I could see doing that more seriously. I’ll tell you though, I don’t know how many of you have seen some of the videos of the baby pandas born at the San Diego zoo in the fall? Now I’m not thinking of being a vet, but if I could be the person who carries the panda into the exam…. They redefine adorable!
If you could trade places with anyone in the world, past or present, real or fiction, who would it be and why?
Hmmm, that’s a hard one, as there are many compelling choices. But just because I mentioned Sherlock Holmes before, I’m going to go with Irene Adler, the one and only woman who bested him! (In the stories, I haven’t seen the new film yet!)
If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have 3 things, what would they be?
Sunblock!!!!! That would be the first, something to write with would be the second, so I could record my impressions while I was waiting to be rescued, and a cell phone that worked, so I could be rescued!
What is your favorite movie of all time?
I don’t have one favorite, but I’m mad for old films --- I’m going to go with Sunset Boulevard, Gilda, Casablanca, Wuthering Heights, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and The Scarlet Pimpernel.
What is the one thing that you want all your fans to know?
The one thing I want all my fans to know is how much their truly heartfelt responses to Willow have meant to me. Truly, I never expected my book to elicit that kind of reaction, and I have honestly been humbled by some of the letters that I’ve gotten. I very much hope that sounds sincere because it is. The one thing that I’d like people who haven’t read Willow yet to know is that, while the story itself sounds rather grim, the themes that Willow explores aren’t nearly so dire. Willow is really about hope, about redemption, and above all, about the power of love to heal. Now Willow is not the right book for everyone, no question, but I’d like to assure your readers who are a little … let’s say, frightened by the sound of it, that many, many people have told me that they found it to be a very uplifting book, a very hopeful book, and above all a very romantic book.
If you could invite 5 people to dinner, who would they be and why?
How about the top three? I’d like to have a little luncheon with the following people. The first would be Lincoln. Now, there are many, many reasons to split a sandwich with Lincoln, but the main reason I’d invite him is because, as a writer, I’m in awe of his extraordinary command of the language. For sheer beauty, The Second Inaugural and Gettysburg, rank with John of Gaunt’s deathbed speech from Shakespeare’s Richard II, as some of the greatest prose ever written. Then I think Julia Child should join us, as she was such a bon vivant that she’d make any gathering go. I’d like to go on record here by saying that I’ve always adored the divine Julia, and I’m thrilled by the current interest in her. Of course I’d ask her to make the lunch. This may sound rude to put a guest to work, but I think she’d be happy to oblige. I’m going to guess she’d go with something classic like a roast chicken. I’m picturing a little tarragon sauce on the side, and an incredibly rich dessert, like a chocolate mousse. Of course, as with Lincoln, there are countless reasons to admire Julia Child, but I will always be indebted to her for teaching my husband to make omelets! The third person I’d like to have over would be Isaac Newton. Now Newton was reputed to be something of a curmudgeon, and would probably bring the group down somewhat, although he might brighten up at Julia’s dessert…. But I really feel I owe Isaac a great deal, and it would be rude not to have him over for at least one meal. I went to graduate school in Physics, and while I slept through many lectures, there was one thing I learned that I have never forgotten. Isaac Newton was asked how it was that he was able to achieve such extraordinary things, so far outside the realm of most people. He replied with five words: “By thinking of nothing else.” Few of us will ever have the extraordinary capacity of Newton, but all of us can apply that dictum to whatever work we are engaged in. We must, in fact, apply that dictum. We must have that level of commitment if we are to get the best out of ourselves.
Penguin Young Readers Group
February 23, 2010
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