65. Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff
Growing up can be a challenging time for any youth. However those in the foster system face many difficulties that those with loving families do not. Few books touch on this element as honestly yet tactfully as Pictures of Hollis Woods. Although written for children, the themes and emotions in it apply to all ages.
Synopsis: No one wants to care for orphaned Hollis Woods. Not only is she already 12-years-old instead of an adorable toddler, her isolated and stubborn temperate make her a less than ideal child. Hollis’ life changes, however, after she is brought to the home of a retired art teacher named Josie. Healing begins to enter the preteen’s life as she discovers her creative skills with Josie’s guidance. However, the elderly woman’s forgetfulness and the girl’s deep pain begin to threaten the new life for which Hollis deeply longs.
Recovery Pluses: Hollis might be closed off to love, but she slowly opens up her heart to someone else. In the past, families have abandoned her. Realizing that some people are trustworthy and loyal is not easy for the foster child. Yet, this willingness to be vulnerable is an essential part of love. We can often forget that in our own lives. Staying closed off is far easier than opening up to the possibility that people might accept or reject us. In the end, more satisfaction and joy will come from vulnerability than isolation.
Another recovery-focused element of this novel is how healing is addressed. All of us struggle with pain from the past. Addressing this can be done in several ways. Some people numb with an addiction while others talk about it with others. Therapy, prayer, journaling, and facing those who harmed you can all be ways of dealing with the past. For some, this is a short or simple process. Others take years and still are triggered by memories. Hollis needs healing in many ways from rejection, loneliness, bitterness, and insecurity. The author refuses to gloss over the pain in this recovery process but still allows hope to prevail. That mixture of realism with hope is how we should view the future and our healing.
Cautions: Although labeled as a young adult novel, Pictures of Hollis Woods deals with many serious issues. Foster care, being orphan, memory loss, and deep pain are some of the heavy elements of this story. Yet, everything is addressed in a tactful and serious way so as not to trivialize or dramatize the situation. Preteens and older would be the most appropriate audience for this book.
Many stories have been written about orphans and the longing for family. Examples books from Oliver Twist to The Boxcar Children series to Anne of Green Gables. Yet, fewer touch on the important subject of children in the modern foster care. Pictures of Hollis Woods does so by presenting a heroine who is unsure of her artistic talent, cranky but secretly sweet, and deeply longing for a family’s love. Healing does not come quickly for Hollis just as it takes time in our lives. However, this novel reminds the characters and readers alike that hope is always possible if we open ourselves up to love.