More somber in mood and adult in tone than Little's (From Anna; Hey, World, Here I Am!) previous books, this novel may disappoint the author's fans. The book opens after Willow and Twig's mother has disappeared again, this time leaving them with an ailing friend who dies while the siblings are in her care. Luckily, Willow has kept an envelope containing information on how to reach their maternal grandmother and, after several protracted scenes, they go to live in her farmhouse on 10 acres. Willow's strong connection to her four-year-old brother, who was born addicted and who has lost most of his hearing due to a beating by one of their mother's acquaintances, binds the novel together. However, 11-year-old Willow's thoughts often convey a level of consciousness not displayed in her actions or conversations (for instance, as she walks one of the many household dogs, she gazes at nature and thinks, "Here you could simply stand and let the land smooth out all the hurt, rough, sore places inside you"). Milestone events for the protagonist-such as making up with the neighbor girl, her first real friend, after an argument; adjusting to school; and separating from Twig for the first time-take place mostly offstage. Thus Willow stays at arm's length from readers, making the narrative seem more like a social worker's profile than a fully realized depiction of the siblings' journey to safety. Ages 8-12. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
No ten-year-old girl should be left in charge of an unmanageable four-year-old brother. However, this happens when Willow's mother abandons both children to take off and do drugs. As the plot unfolds, the reader discovers that Willow and brother, Twig, have been shuffled around from place to place. When their last caretaker dies, Willow searches for safety. The police station seems logical until she meets a crabby receptionist. Willow maintains her cool, and she and Twig finally make it to her grandmother's place, called Stonecrop, in Ontario. Issues from the past haunt the children as they attempt to become assimilated into a caring and safe lifestyle. It takes Willow a while to believe she can experience such a safe place. At Stonecrop she forms a friendship with the real-life neighborhood version of Pippi Longstocking. In the end, Twig's problem of hearing loss is revealed and he is allowed to attend a special school. Gradually Willow's responsibility for her brother lessens as she permits her grandmother to make decisions about his welfare. Relief for the reader comes at the end of the book when the children have the opportunity of being like the ordinary kids they should be. The author uses a method of writing that keeps the reader wanting more. The subject is touchy, but does not make the reader uncomfortable. This tantalizing book would make an excellent read for children who are forced to take on responsibility because of their parents inabilities. 2000, Viking/Penguin Group,
Nancy Garhan Attebury
Gr 6-8-When their mother, Angel, takes off again, Willow Jones and her four-year-old brother, Twig, are left with a frail, near penniless, old woman who had agreed to take care of the children for a weekend. When the weekend extends to months and Maisie dies, Willow knows that she must take charge of their situation. With her insistent and encouraging inner voice called Red Mouse, she finds the help needed to leave the threatening streets of Vancouver. The packet of her mother's papers held by Maisie opens another world for the children, sparking Willow's loose-ended, half-recalled memories, and presenting her with family and friends for the first time in her life. The children fly to Ontario, where they are met by their grandmother, who lives in the rural family home with her brother and sister, plus an assortment of animals. Uncle Hum is a blind writer of children's books and the author of the "Red Mouse" stories so familiar to Willow. He responds positively to the children; Aunt Constance, however, is much less accepting. Both difficult and everyday issues are introduced: Angel's drug addiction, Twig's disabilities and how they occurred, the prejudice the children confront, making friends, finding a place in a family. The pacing of this richly textured novel allows characters to develop plausibly, quiet mysteries to unravel logically, and problems to be addressed optimistically. Relationships between adults and children are explored and evolve; motives for adult behaviors are introduced. Readers will come to know and empathize with these well-realized characters and cheer for their triumphs, both minor and great.-Maria B. Salvadore, formerly at District of Columbia Public Library Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
A sad and unfortunate situation of child abandonment and abuse is turned around in a consuming story that offers realism, hope, and psychological fortitude. Ten-year-old Willow Wind Jones and her four-year-old half-brother, Twig, have been left, as before, by their drug-addicted mother with an older, sick woman in a welfare hotel. Three months have gone by with no sign of their mother, Angel, and when the old woman collapses, probably dying, Willow assesses their circumstances and makes the difficult decision to seek help from the local police station. Social services intervenes and the children are returned to the supportive home of their grandmother who quickly begins the difficult process of establishing a trusting, protective, and loving environment. Little (Emma's Yucky Brother, 2001, etc.) has skillfully developed the characters of the two children through Willow's mental anguish as she has silently struggled alone for the last several years with her fears and bore the responsibility of serving as surrogate mother, teacher, and even stable adult to her physically and psychologically scarred brother. Twig's physical abuse has resulted in his deafness and slow developmental progress, making him appear to be wild and uncontrollable in times of duress. Grandmother begins the legal process for guardianship and Angel eventually calls to make empty promises to the children, once again. Little has set the major portion of the story in a similar home life to her farmstead in Ontario, complete with animals and a blind uncle who is also a children's author. Emotionally absorbing, with a somewhat convenient ending, but satisfying all the same. (Fiction. 10-12)