by Mai K. Nguyen
Publisher: Oni Press
Publication Date: April 17, 2019
Genres: Graphic Novel
I received an advance review copy of this book from NetGalley. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.
A heartwarming story of friendship, loss, and finding your way home from debut author/illustrator Mai K. Nguyen!
Willow loves the woods near her house. They’re calm and quiet, so different from her own turbulent emotions, which she keeps locked away. When her emotions get the better of her one day, she decides to run away into the woods.
There, she meets Pilu, a lost tree spirit who can’t find her way back home—which turns out to be the magnolia grove Willow’s mom used to take her to. Willow offers to help Pilu, and the two quickly become friends.
But the journey is long, and Pilu isn’t sure she’s ready to return home yet—which infuriates Willow, who’s determined to make up for her own mistakes by getting Pilu back safely. As a storm rages and Willow’s emotions bubble to the surface, they suddenly take on a physical form, putting both girls in danger… and forcing Willow to confront her inner feelings once and for all.
This is so gorgeous and adorable. It’s marketed as a middle-grade graphic novel, but I enjoyed it immensely and think the lesson would be applicable to and accessible to most ages.
After an argument with her older sister, Willow runs away into the woods where she meets a fellow runaway, a wood spirit named Pilu. While Willow is angry over her sister’s criticism, Pilu feels ignored by her mother, and believes that she won’t even miss her now that she’s run away. As Willow works to change Pilu’s mind and get her home, Pilu helps her rethink how she’s been dealing with her emotions after her mother’s death.
I found this a thoughtful and gentle exploration of what Willow calls her “angry little monsters” – thoughts and feelings that make you feel helpless and small. Willow promised her mother before she died that she’d be strong, and Willow’s taken that having to repress her grief and pain, to not cry. But bottling up her feelings doesn’t work, and just ends in her lashing out at her loved ones. Pilu tells Willow that “the more you ignore something, the louder it gets” – that nobody likes being ignored, and neither do feelings. I feel like anthropomorphizing each girl’s feelings into monsters helped take a difficult subject and make this age-appropriate (and frankly I found them adorable!). Sometimes, especially when dealing with things of this nature, books get very preachy, but I didn’t find that the case with this one. The message meshed nicely with the girls’ adventure.
The book’s title does have the word “woods” in it, so it’s no surprise that the outdoors is featured prominently. Most of the book is spent in the woods near her house, and it’s obvious that Willow (and the author) has a deep love of nature. On top of that, the art is absolutely gorgeous. This is seriously one of the most beautiful graphic novels I’ve ever read, and I frequently paused when reading to just take in a panel. The colors are deep and perfectly matched, done in a watercolor style that fits well with the depictions of nature and the story overall.
Overall, I very much enjoyed this, even though I’m outside the target age range. Not only did I preorder a copy for my kids, but I also hunted down the author on twitter (@ohmaipie), so I will definitely be looking forward to more from her in the future!