After reading Sarah Miller’s enthusiastic review of this today, I went upstairs and plucked it off my pile (it being there because it’s one of the Middle Grade Cybil nominees). I’m so very glad I did.
It’s a beautiful book — both to look at and to read. There are no illustrations, but the poems themselves are works of art. Each poem is a shape of the diamond willow sticks (for a picture, either go to Sarah’s or to Helen Frost’s website), with a darker hidden message in each one. I loved paging through the book, just looking at each individual shape (I don’t think there are two alike). But in addition, the words themselves are carefully, simply and yet powerfully chosen. I like how each poem each builds the story towards a most satisfying conclusion.
The story is pretty simple: Willow, a 12-year-old part-Native Alaskan who lives in a remote town, is struggling with herself, with school, with finding happiness. She begs her parents to drive the sled (with three dogs) to her Grandparents house one weekend, and on coming back there’s an accident. From there, it builds and to go on would spoil your experience, so I won’t.
There are so many things to like in addition to the simple beauty of the book. There’s the ancestors spirits who are guiding and helping Willow along her path. There’s a subtle, understated humor about it. There’s a respect and love of nature. There’s a wonderful human-dog relationship (which made me think of my sister, who would love this book). And I think Frost captured the insecurities and hopes and determination of a 12-year-old who is trying to find herself.
In all, it was one of the best hours I’ve spent in a long time.
(Just for the record: because this is a Cybils nominee, I’ve been asked to make sure y’all know this is my opinion only, and not that of the panel. Thank you.)