by Holly Goldberg Sloan
My reactions to this book are quite mixed that I cannot sort them all out coherently. So, here we go, a list of what I liked and what I had some issues with:
Starting with the positive aspects of the book:
- I quite enjoyed the protagonist and her many interesting observations and thoughts. Especially when she was less “normal” and more stubbornly herself the first part of the book. I know that’s kind of the point of the book, that Willow “learned” how to interact with others and became more accepted and more accepting, but she definitely becomes less interesting a character as the story progresses.
- I appreciated the author’s effort in pulling together a cast of diverse ethnicities, and featuring mix-raced kids and adults.
- I definitely was curious and interested enough to know how things would pan out for Willow and the others, especially Dell.
- I liked how at first one couldn’t quite tell the age and gender of Willow.
- I thought that this is a thematically significant story.
- I also thought it totally fine for the author to switch POVs — I’d rather this than having the author trying to keep it all in Willow’s head and thus making the book either too claustrophobic or Willow too wise and and unconvincing in her insights.
Now, onto the things that troubled me or did not satisfy me as much:
- Vietnamese is presented as a language that one has to learn “verbal conjugations” for — when in reality, like many Asian languages, one uses only a few time stamps/phrases to indicate tenses while the original verbs remain the same. I know that the author consulted Vietnamese speaking friends so it is even more curious that this oversight is in the book. (I did read the online galley so don’t know exactly how the finished book handles this aspect exactly.)
- I cannot wrap my head around how Pattie has SO much money that she could buy the entire building complex from the bank at the end of the book because of Willow and her predicament, and yet would subject her own children to live squalidly in the garage where her teenaged son who obviously is VERY troubled by the fact that their living condition is shameful (and he didn’t even have normal underwear) and was acting out and doing poorly at school. Would an immigrant mother who suffered quite a bit of humiliation in her own youth, and who is presented as competent and caring for others, hide away all her wealth to this extend? This just doesn’t compute for me.
- There is quite a bit of rule and law breaking through the whole book, by almost every character, that I got slightly paranoid about recommending this to young readers. Dell got by in his job without ever following protocols or performing the minimum requirements. We hope that he has changed toward the end of the story… but that was not quite clear. The whole “using Dell’s address” and faking that they’re all living in that apartment works quite well, but from the get go was a giant and elaborate lie, which became a wonderful truth at the end of the tale… seems too convenient and pat and is that what the author tries to convey? As long as a lie comes from a good place, it will lead to a positive outcome? Even Mai tells lies to the school in order to go to the custody hearing. I am usually not one to worry about such things in children’s books, but for some reason, the accumulation of such behaviors as a way to make the story work got under my skin.