Saturday, January 15, 2011

Review: "Diamond Willow" by Helen Frost

Title: Diamond Willow
Author: Helen Frost
Publisher: Frances Foster Books, 2008
Where I got it: Library, after reading about it on Anita Silvey's awesome Children's Book-a-Day Almanac.

*Starred Review*

Told in diamond-shaped poems, this is the story of 12-year-old Willow, a part-Athabascan girl (on her mother's side) who lives in a remote part of Alaska with her family in a tiny community where the only means of transportation are dog sleds and snow machines. Willow isn't very popular at school and tries to stay on the periphery, but she wants her parents to trust her and let her have more responsibility. Finally, her parents let her mush the dogs, led by her favorite, Roxy, alone to her grandparents' house; but on the way home, an accident—as well as unearthing a family secret—will change the way she sees herself, and how she lives her life.

Frost carefully sculpts each poem to fit into a diamond shape, which she explains in her author's note at the beginning. A diamond willow is not a specific type of willow, she explains, but any willow that has lost branches—wherever there was a wound in the tree and a branch fell, a diamond shape appears, with a darker center. Frost also gives a richer, deeper center to each of her poems—bolded letters spell out a secret thought from Willow, who narrates them.

Interspersed are narrations from animals in and around Willow's home, giving a different perspective of the story and providing some context. What makes these narrations so important is the fact that the animals contain the spirits of the characters' departed ancestors. Each had been human at one time, and still they look out for their own.

I cannot say how much I loved this book. The poetry was beautifully crafted, not only to shape the diamond, but to spell out the deeper message. These short thoughts lend an incredible clarity to Willow's spirit and soul; they are the cries behind the words she speaks that are never said aloud, but that she feels so sharply within her mind and heart. I loved finding these bursts in the heart of each poem, and they lend such richness to the story and to Willow.

The story itself is heartrending, as well. It's an incredible yet gentle family story that will not leave me for some time. Willow grows so much, and I loved watching it unfold. I will be going out and buying this for my own collection for sure, as it's well worth owning.

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