Tuesday, May 31, 2011

In Which Trai Reviews 'Willow'

** This review is going to be rife with spoilers, as there is no other way to fully express just what I felt was wrong with this book. **

The Book: Willow

The Author: Julia Hoban

How I Found It: Initially, through browsing the YA section at Borders. This was another library read on my beloved Kobo TARDIS.

The Review: I think I have officially found the worst book I have ever read. This book was even worse than the dreadful Prescription for Romance. TARDIS should be grateful that I love her dearly and would never harm an expensive possession of mine, because if this had been a physical book, I would've been hurling it at the wall.

Now that I've officially raised (lowered?) expectations, let's get on to the actual review, shall we?

Willow is struggling to cope after the death of her parents in a horrible car accident. To make things worse, she is the one who was driving the car--it was the worst rainstorm of the year, Willow only had a permit, and her parents were tipsy and asked her to drive. Now she is living with her older brother, contributing to the family finances in order to make ends meet... and secretly cutting to deal with the pain.

Through her job at the local university library, Willow meets Guy, a boy her age who shares her and her late parents' interest in obscure anthropological texts. Though Willow can barely stand the thought of emotional connections these days, she and Guy begin to talk, but when Guy learns her secret, he becomes convinced that she needs saving. He makes every effort possible to draw Willow out of her depression and stop her self-harming, but in the end, it is Willow who will have to take the initiative to fix things.

This book is a real wall-banger, with two of the most annoying characters I have ever encountered. Guy in particular is someone I would never, ever want to meet in real life based on the actions I will ennumerate below, and since this is at least partially meant to be a romance, I am more than a little certain the author would not want me to feel that way.

First off, we've got Willow herself. She is at least characterized realistically, but that realism made her really annoying to read about in third person limited perspective. Willow does not cut anybody slack. She believes that her tragedy outweighs the mediocre problems in everyone else's lives, that it invalidates everyone else's right to feel. When a girl breaks some lab equipment and cries over it, Willow condemns her mentally, basically saying to herself, what right does this girl have to cry over something so minor? I could really understand that perspective, but geez, it made me lose a lot of sympathy for Willow regardless.

Later on in the novel, Willow has a huge blowup with her brother, where she accuses him of not letting her take care of her young niece because he's afraid that she'll kill her like she did their parents. Her brother makes no effort to smooth things over at first, but his wife leaves Willow an extraordinarily kind and understanding note the next morning. Willow brushes it off with the thought that clearly if Cathy is being that nice, she just doesn't get it. Ugh. Willow was incredibly selfish and even if it was realistic, she was not a person I particularly cared about or wanted to spend time with.

Then there's Guy. I'm pretty sure Guy is the worst hero I have ever encountered in YA or any other literature, and I'm counting Edward Cullen, for whom I have absolutely no warm feelings, in there. How does Guy offend me? Let me count the ways.

* First, there's how he finds out that Willow cuts. They're sitting in a park and Guy invites her to get a cappuccino. Willow believes she can't be making a connection at this point, only seven months after her parents died, declines, and gets up. Guy proceeds to grab her wrist and then try to pull her back down and get her to stay with him. It's a pretense so that he can brush a scabbed-over cut, see the blood, and realize she's a cutter, but no. Just no. You do not grab a girl you've only just met, someone who clearly isn't interested in staying in your company, and beg her to stay with you. That was so creepy and awful.

* Second, the incident that made me realize Guy is dumber than a sack of rocks. Willow has bought some boxes of razors on sale. When they fall from her bag in public, Guy claims she bought them for him to help her save face. Later on, they get into a fight, and he proceeds to throw the box of razors back at her. Even if the razors are safety-wrapped, what genius thinks that's okay?

* Third, the wonderful homophobia and sexism Guy exhibits. He's just sensitive enough to love Shakespeare and the same obscure book that Willow loves, Tristes Tropiques, but just manly enough to call a coffee shop Willow brings him to a "girly place" and say that he wants to get out of there. When Willow says all the guys at her old school used to love it, he says something like, "What kind of guys went to your school, anyway?" Awesome. So the only guys that can like a coffee shop are not masculine enough to be considered men, and probably, by extension, gay, which is apparently a bad thing in your eyes? Seriously, Guy, I'm loving you.

* Fourth, and most egregious, the absolute worst message I have ever seen in a young adult novel: a romance you're not ready for will clearly solve every problem you have! Willow kisses Guy and freaks out, realizing that she's not ready for a relationship. Guy gets mad at her for that, which is a pretty jerky thing to do, considering he knows how difficult and confused a time she's having. Willow kisses him a second time maybe a few days later and is magically ready for... some kind of relationship, I suppose. But then comes the real kicker.

Willow goes back to her old house with Guy. She finally has her first emotional breakdown over the situation, after she realizes she'll never be anyone's daughter again. And then... wait! She's suddenly ready to have sex with a guy she's known barely a month! We get passages like this: “But you’re so shy.” Guy’s voice is soft against her throat as he continues to slide her bra off her shoulders. “And you’re so vulnerable. Please tell me that you’re sure.” So basically, what Guy is saying here is, I don't think you're ready for sex at all, but hey, let me keep taking off your bra!

So they're in the midst of foreplay and Willow asks if he has protection. He has a condom in his wallet, and Willow asks how long it's been there (thankfully). And here's his explanation. Ready? He put it in there very shortly after he met her, because he wanted to be ready for if she needed "protecting" in this way. So ~sexual healing~ is the answer to emotional issues? Really? No. This was the most disgustingly unromantic passage I have ever read. He barely knew her and yet decided to be perfectly prepared to have sex with her. Ew, ew, ew.

After this, we do get resolution on the situation between Willow and her brother, something I actually cared about. The thing that really annoyed me is that, even though Willow's brother realizes she had sex, he doesn't seem in the least bothered by the fact that she's jumping into a relationship she doesn't seem to be emotionally ready for. Their relationship gets no real closure, which was, again, realistic, but not what I look for in a novel.

And then the very end, where Guy is again proven to be the worst hero I've ever read about. He says that now that he's Willow's lover (seriously, have you ever heard a 16- or 17-year-old boy use that term? I'm 20 and I haven't), she has to pick between him or her razor blades. She throws her razor blades into the lake when he basically forces her to, and the end sentence is something about how it's a "beautiful beginning." Um, no, I would consider this a terrifying beginning. She's entered into casual sex she isn't emotionally ready for with a guy who's a perfect mess of stupidity and an utter inability to handle her emotional issues in a mature way. Fantastic!

As you can probably tell by now, I absolutely loathed this book, and feel it sends the worst possible message to teenagers. At the very least, it showed me that professional help is necessary in a situation such as this, because as noble as his intentions were, Guy handled the situation in the worst way, and the ultimate resolution reeked of unfortunate implications (sex solves your emotional problems!). Avoid at all costs.

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