5.0 6
by Cecilia Galante

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Ten-year-old Lily Sinclair is a bored latchkey kid, an ardent fan of decaf coffee, shoes, and anything to do with lizards. (She has a pet gecko, Weemis.) When her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hiller, introduces her to the owner of the nearby Pet Palace and his adult son Nate, who has Down’s syndrome, Lily finds herself with an unofficial after-school job. She forges a… See more details below


Ten-year-old Lily Sinclair is a bored latchkey kid, an ardent fan of decaf coffee, shoes, and anything to do with lizards. (She has a pet gecko, Weemis.) When her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hiller, introduces her to the owner of the nearby Pet Palace and his adult son Nate, who has Down’s syndrome, Lily finds herself with an unofficial after-school job. She forges a tentative friendship with Nate, but their bond is threatened by a dark secret that will change everything. Boasting a fresh, original voice, Willowood is a touching testament to the importance of friendship.

Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
Although less tightly woven than Frances O'Roark Dowell's tween stories, Galante's third novel tenderly explores the impact of friendship, family and bullying on preteen girls. The biggest adjustment for Lily Sinclair when she is forced to move to the city after her single mother loses her job is leaving behind her best friend and Willowood, their secret tree-canopy hangout. The beginning of fifth grade holds little promise, as her essays receive poor grades, she becomes the brunt of snooty Amanda's class pranks and her mother refuses to provide details about her missing father. The year takes a turn for the better when the lizard-loving girl befriends a pet-store owner, his grown son, Nate, with Down syndrome, and the class nerd, who shares Amanda's wrath, and she finds a new place to call her own in an abandoned apartment. Adding more details to her essays and life, Lily discovers that her nontraditional family is what makes her unique. While Nate's speech is inconsistent, Lily's growing maturity will strike a chord with young readers experiencing their own changes. (Fiction. 9-12)
Publishers Weekly
Galante (The Patron Saint of Butterflies) writes a heartfelt story of friendship and change. When Lily's single-parent mother gets a new job, the fifth-grader isn't happy about moving to a bigger city (“Their lives had been so perfect back home in Glenview, where everything was quiet and green”). Lily sorely misses her best friend, Bailey, and their secret place under a willow tree. With her mother working long hours and Bailey too busy to talk on the phone, Lily's closest confidante might be Weemis, her pet gecko. Although some people—her babysitter, Mrs. Hiller; Gina, the class nerd; and a pet shop owner who offers Lily a part-time job—make kind overtures, Lily doesn't recognize the value of their friendships until actions she takes result in hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Galante has a knack for small details (like Lily contemplating that neither she nor her mother know how to braid hair) and fully formed characters that make the story inviting and authentic. Lily emerges as a likable, realistically flawed heroine; her courage and integrity, illustrated in her determination to make things right, will win readers' respect. Ages 9-13. (Mar.)
School Library Journal
Gr 4–6—Eleven-year-old Lily is not happy when her single mother decides to move them from a small town to a city. Her mother's long hours at her new job and a class bully don't help. But Lily has a gecko that she loves, and her neighbor and sitter, Mrs. Hiller, introduces her to the owner of a pet store, Bernard, and his adult son, Nate, who has Down syndrome. The characters, including Lily's new friend, Gina, the class nerd, are fully realized individuals. Nate is especially well drawn, and he becomes a true friend to Lily. As the story develops, she begins to understand that life is not always fair. With its finely tuned plot and poetic language, this novel compares well with Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie (Candlewick, 2000) in character development and plot. Children will enjoy the story of Lily's first few months in the big city.—Wendy Smith-D'Arezzo, Loyola College, Baltimore, MD

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LILY LAY BACK AGAINST HER PILLOW AND listened as her mother spoke into the phone. The pounding downstairs was getting louder. “Yes, of course I’ve asked them to be quiet!” her mother said. “Several times! And every night there’s another problem… .”

Lily closed her eyes. How could Mom have thought that moving to the city would be a good thing? Their lives had been so perfect back home in Glenview, where everything was quiet and green. At night Mom would open the windows so the breeze could drift in, and Lily would fall asleep to the sound of crickets chirping. Here in the city, she was surrounded by steel and sirens and car horns. Mom had opened the window a little bit their first night, since it was so warm, but it had been too loud to sleep. “Don’t worry,” she’d said, sliding it shut again. “We’ll get used to it.” Lily had rolled over and squeezed her eyes shut. She knew it wasn’t Mom’s fault that she had been let go from her job. And she was pretty sure that her mother realized by now how upset she was about having to leave her best friend, Bailey. But she wasn’t about to pretend everything was going to be okay, like Mom was constantly doing. It wasn’t okay. And she didn’t know if it ever would be again.

She tried not to cry as she thought about Bailey for the umpteenth time. Bailey had been her best friend since the first day of kindergarten, when they’d discovered they were wearing the exact same shoes. Lily smiled as she remembered the expression on Bailey’s face when she looked down and saw that Lily had on identical pink and white princess sneakers with Velcro straps. They had worn them all year, even when the heel of Bailey’s had gotten ripped and the Velcro strap on Lily’s left shoe had stopped working.

She and Bailey looked alike too. Once a girl at the mall had asked if they were twins. They had looked at each other, giggled, and then said yes. Other than the fact that Bailey was at least four inches taller than Lily, they really could pass for twins. Or at least sisters. Their light brown hair was cut just below their ears, and they both had wide blue eyes and small noses. They even had the same ears, tiny and shaped like pink question marks. The best thing about Bailey, though, was that she wasn’t boring. In fact, Lily never knew what was going to happen when they spent time together. Bailey, it seemed, had a way of turning perfectly ordinary days into something magical. Take their tree, for instance. To Lily it had been just another willow tree next to the empty tennis courts in the park. It had a brown trunk and branches with leaves. Big deal. But one afternoon, as Lily and Bailey cut through the park on their way home from school, Bailey stopped in front of it.

“What’s the matter?” Lily asked.

Bailey cocked her head and then bent over, as if looking at the tree upside down. “What are you doing?” Lily asked. It was getting close to six. Mom had dinner on the table every night at six fifteen sharp. Lily was not allowed to be late. “Come on, I have to go.”

Instead of answering, Bailey walked straight toward the tree. “Bailey!” Lily called. “I’m gonna be late!” She watched her friend disappear through the leafy curtain of low-hanging branches.

“Get in here!” Bailey’s voice drifted out from inside the tree. “You won’t believe this!”

Lily walked toward the tree and yanked aside the branches. “What?”

“All the way,” Bailey said, beckoning with her fingers. Her voice was soft. “You gotta come in all the way.” Lily sighed and stepped through the opening. It wasn’t a very large space, especially since most of it was taken up by the trunk. But as the branches slid back into place, she became aware suddenly of standing in a pool of golden light. All around them, like an enormous umbrella, the flat yellow leaves formed a perfect wall, shutting out the rest of the world. It was so quiet that Lily could hear Bailey breathing in and out next to her.

“Whoa,” she said.

“Look up,” Bailey whispered. Lily tilted her head back. Through the tangle of limbs and branches, little patches of pale blue sky peeked through. But otherwise, Lily thought, it was like being inside an upside down jar of honey. “It’s like a whole other world inside here, isn’t it?” Bailey said.

“Uh-huh,” Lily answered.

They named it Willowood and met there every day after school, unless the weather was bad. Bailey found a rusty beach chair in her basement that her mom said she could have. The spring was broken in the back, but if they leaned it against the trunk, it worked just fine. When Lily’s Aunt Wava, who lived in New York City, sent her a postcard of the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, Lily poked a hole through the top of it and threaded it through one of the tendril-like branches. Those were her favorite times with Bailey, when they would lie listlessly on the beach chair, staring up at the postcard, which swayed like a forgotten photograph among the leaves.

A few months later, Mom came home with the news that she had gotten a new job. Lily was excited to see Mom so happy; it had never been a secret that Mom hated her job waitressing, and now she said she was going to make a lot more money. But then she let it drop that the job wasn’t in Glenview. It was four hours away in a city called Riverside Heights. Lily had heard of Riverside Heights once on the news. Someone had been killed there. The body had been found the next morning by a man who was fishing. Of course Mom didn’t seem to take this bit of information very seriously when Lily reminded her of it.

“I know it’s a big change, honey,” was all she said. “But it’ll be okay. I really think you’re going to like it.”

Knock, knock, knock!

Now, Lily pulled the covers up to her chin as Mom rushed to the front door. Outside her window, flashes of blue and red blinked through the blackness.

“You Mrs. Sinclair?” a deep voice asked.

Miss Sinclair,” Mom said. “Yes.”

Lily rolled her eyes. Mom always corrected people when they assumed she was married.

“Did you make the complaint?” the voice asked.

“Yes, I did,” Mom said. “Right downstairs …”

Thud, thud, thud.

The noise interrupted Mom midsentence.

For a second, Lily wondered if maybe someone else in Riverside Heights was getting murdered. Right beneath them.

“You hear?” her mother said. “Did you hear that? That’s been going on all night!” Her voice drifted off as she followed the policeman down the steps. Lily could hear him banging on the door downstairs.

“Open up! Police!”

Lily rolled over.

Of course Mom thought she knew what she was talking about when she told Lily that she was going to love Riverside Heights.

Adults always thought they knew everything.

© 2010 Cecilia Galante

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