Publication: Already Available
When Willow spends the summer helping her Aunt Agatha remodel an old barge into a floating chamber music concert hall, she runs into all kinds of trouble. First, there is sleazy and good-looking Craig, who looks at Willow like he could plunder and pillage right in front of her Aunt. Then, there's the fact that the barge is still largely a metal box that doesn't have a shower, or a real place to sleep. Willow is away from her friends and her mother, dealing with the strangeness of her aunt (in a good weird aunt kind of way), a new place, new people, and her own distorted self and body image. And there's Axel.
Castrovilla creates a compelling story in her debut teen novel. I've praised her before for telling it like it is, and this story is no exception. It is gritty, real, and unabashedly open. At times, the emotions and events are so realistically portrayed that I felt a bit like a peeping tom. As Willow muddles her way through the hurdles of anorexia, rape, love that can't be requited, and trying to save the life of her friend, the story can seem to spiral downward quickly--just like Willow.
However, even with all the dark and heavy issues this novel tackles, there are several lighter spots to break it up. The more humorous moments come from Aunt Agatha, who sees the world as her playground, and seemingly is unfazed by the problems that come her way. Agatha is so carefree that when her car looses a tire in traffic (TWICE!), she laughs it off and accepts s ride with a colleague until her car can be repaired. There are other laughs too, but none so plenty as Agatha.
The characters of this novel are pretty stock: the hurting young girl/woman; the heroic crush with a sordid past; the overly sexual twenty-something male; the absent, but beautiful mother; the cooky aunt (or semi-supportive matriarch). These characters only get short breaths of life as the story progresses. Many of the conversations between characters seem to happen over and over on one subject or another, which stalls the plot of the book.
I really bothers me that Willow truly believes that she is ugly and unlovable, even to someone as loathable as Craig (who takes advantage of her in the worst way). After all the trauma and trouble Willow has been through she should have more growth and self realization, but she seems to believe that she is nothing without Axel. She says that without Axel she is "pissed and lonely," but she eats because she "owed it him" to take care of herself. I wonder why Willow can't see that she owes it to HERSELF to take care of herself. It is only upon Axel's return, a year later, that she feels happy and worthy again. Perhaps readers will see Willow's constant self deprecation and take something positive from it. If readers can see that Willow is not worthless, maybe they can recognize their own self worth.
The novel is interesting and Willow's voice will rings true in many parts. Castrovilla constructs a neatly laid story with the obligatory year later and looking up ending. Her constant play of darkness and light pays off in the end. This is an important read for anyone in the shadows.
Rating: 3 1/2 Pages