Publishers Weekly states that The Picture of Hollis Woods is appropriate for readers ages 8 – 13. That makes me laugh. I’m well into my middle-age years and was completely captured by this book. I learned a long time ago that the best children’s literature can only be fully appreciated by adults—albeit adults who are still connected to the magic of childhood. I believe that caveat narrows the range of adults down quite a bit. As with most great juvenile literature Hollis Woods bridges the gap between the world of adults and children as seen from the children’s side of the bridge. It does this with honesty, grace, and beauty.
Hollis Woods is written in the vein of The Great Gilly Hopkins. Both deal with troubled orphans looking for home. In spite of the similar themes, Author Patricia Reilly Giff successfully creates a unique voice for Hollis Woods. While that voice is honest and not patronizing, it is gentle with deliberate touches of kindness. I like this.
I understand that world is often a brutal place for children, especially those in the foster care program, but it isn’t always brutal. Adult books that deal with the subject of foster care almost always focus on the brutal cases, as in White Oleander. There we have murder, child sexual abuse, sex, vicious dog attacks, and much more. While Hollis Woods’ troubles are limited to being separated from those she loves most—and this will tear at your heart enough–she is spared the brutality.
The magic of Hollis Woods is found in how Giff weaves Hollis’s art, scenes of an important relationship prior to the beginning of the book, and the odd relationship she has in her current foster home into an enchanting and compelling story. Hollis’s unique relationship with Josie, her current foster guardian, is as refreshing as it is hopeful. Josie is a healing factor in Hollis’s life while Hollis turns into Josie’s caretaker. It is a warm and gratifying relationship for the reader to experience. Giff slowly reveals to us the crisis that happened before the books begins that costs Hollis a family. Things come together into a perfect climax that, with one perfectly timed sentence, brought me to tears.
This is a book I can heartily recommend to anyone who loves people.