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Willow and Twig

by Jean Little

Jean Little doesn’t shy away from the darker side of life in her latest novel, a departure from her usual style. In Willow and Twig, a brother and sister, abandoned by their drug-addicted mother, finally find safety and a new life with their grandmother. Willow, wise beyond her years at 10, must look after her younger brother, Twig, who was born drug-addicted, was deafened in a beating, and has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. This subject matter makes the book very difficult to categorize. Who is the intended audience for a novel that opens with stories of abortions, drug use, and prostitution, then focuses on the 10-year-old protagonist’s return to emotional health in an idyllic pastoral setting? Think Evelyn Lau’s Runaway: The Diary of a Street Kid crossed with Anne of Green Gables. Certainly, readers love an emotional survival story like Willow’s, but the realistic detail may be too much for children Willow’s age, the likeliest readers.

The many secondary story lines also threaten to overwhelm the novel’s central plot. For example, Willow’s imaginary friend, Red Mouse, is a confusing, inconsistent figure whose sporadic presence sometimes distracts rather than enlightens. A subplot about a ghost in the grandmother’s house is similarly one-dimensional and unresolved. Finally, Little blurs the boundaries between autobiography and fiction by setting this story in her own farmhouse and featuring her (renamed) pets, seeing-eye dog, and Uncle Humphrey, a legally blind writer of children’s books. Fans of Little may end up trying too hard to read between the lines for more elements of “real life,” and miss out on the book’s ultimate affirmation of hope.


Reviewer: Laurie Mcneill

Publisher: Viking/Penguin Books Canada


Price: $22.99

Page Count: 228 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-670-88856-7

Released: Feb.

Issue Date: 2000-1

Categories: Children and YA Non-fiction

Age Range: ages 10+