Book Review, Julia Hoban, Young Adult

Book Review: Scarred / Willow by Julia Hoban

Seven months after the car accident that killed her parents, Willow is struggling to cope. She blames herself for the accident, as it was she who was driving that night when the car lost control in treacherous weather conditions. Now living with her brother, his wife and young niece she feels alone and racked with guilt. Her relationship with her brother is also under strain, as she believes he also thinks the accident was her fault, and that he doesn’t want the responsibility of looking after her when he has his own family. The only release from the pain inside is by cutting her self. Then she meets Guy, and for the first time since her parents death, Willow feels she has someone who really cares for her. But can she allow herself to care for him in return?

From the moment I heard about this book I was intrigued and wanted to read it. Self-harm is a subject that is very rarely talked about at any time, let alone in a Young Adult novel and I was interested to see how the author would tackle it. I have personal interest in the subject of self-harm and I am often shocked by the general lack of understanding and support available to people who are harming themselves.

Julia Hoban captures Willow’s feelings perfectly. It’s difficult for people to understand why some people would do this to themselves, and the author explains through Willow in a way that will enlighten. I thought that despite being quite difficult to read, it was written very sensitively. I found it easy to identify and empathise with Willow’s anguish. She remains a strong character, and her emotions come across as very real. I think it’s a real achievement that she doesn’t come across as self-pitying despite her problems and I do believe that Willow’s experience does shed some light on what is a misunderstood and taboo condition.

The relationship with her brother was particularly well portrayed. As each presumed what the other was thinking without ever talking and the gulf between them widened, the tension and unspoken words between the two can be felt through the pages. But it’s the budding friendship and then romance with Guy that is truly beautiful. The relationship is difficult but tender, brutally honest yet breathtakingly magical. With Guy, Willow goes on a journey to accept her grief and discover herself in the new life she has found herself in.

My one complaint is that I did find the present tense a little distracting at times. I’m not sure why, but reading in the present tense often irritates me. It’s a credit to Hoban’s writing that this was only an occasional distraction rather than a major annoyance.

There are some pretty graphic and disturbing scenes throughout the book, which are uncomfortable, but I think necessary. For this reason I wouldn’t recommend Willow to younger readers and think it’s probably better suited to over 14’s only. I’d also say this is not the book for someone who IS harming themselves, as the descriptions of Willow’s cutting could be a trigger to them. This isn’t a criticism of the author in any sense, but something I feel worth mentioning. I do think this is a great book for gaining an insight into self-harm and for a strong emotional read. Willow/Scarred is intense, sad, emotional, tender and beautiful all at once, and while I can’t say I enjoyed it, I’m certainly glad I read it.

This book is titled Scarred in the UK and Willow in the US. I bought the US cover because at the time Scarred was out of stock.

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Scarred / Willow by Julia Hoban”

  1. Excellent review. I've been meaning to read this for ages but I have to admit that the subject matter is stopping me from picking it up at the moment. I know I'm going to be glad I've read it when I finally do though. I love the sound of the friendship / romance with Guy too.

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  2. I don't mind disturbing subject matter and I've yet to read a book on cutting, so I am intrigued by this book. I'm glad Julia didn't make Willow seem self-pitying and I am curious as to why Willow hurt herself like that. Great review! 🙂

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  3. A very sensitive review of a novel that deals with a very sensitive issue. I would agree with your comment about the book's audience. I found this to be true of Wintergirls too. While I think there is a place for such books, it is not something that as a teacher I feel comfortable having on my self for 8th graders to read, yet they cold be helpful to read in groups with carefully directed discussions.

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