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Willow book cover

Willow, by Tonya Cherie Hegamin;
Candlewick Press: Somerville, Massachusetts,
2014; $16.99

The first thing I noticed about this book was the fact that Willow is both the main character’s name and the title. I liked this because I sometimes refer to a book by the protagonist’s name and not the title.

Willow is about a fifteen-year-old black girl who lives in Maryland in the late 1840s. Like many girls of her heritage in that time, Willow is a slave. However, she considers her life almost as good as a free one, because she has always been favored by her master. Reverend Jefferson Jeffries (what a name!) treats all his slaves with much more respect than other masters do. Still, they are slaves. Willow’s father is both Rev Jeff’s most trusted servant and his overseer, so Willow and her papa live a little nicer than most.

Unlike many parents today, Willow’s papa makes all the decisions for her and is not open to negotiation. My parents give me lots of choices and support the things I want to do, like piano and competitive gymnastics.

One thing that is very similar between Willow and me is that we love to read and write. However, my parents have always encouraged and helped me with reading, and Willow has to keep hers a secret.

I have been keeping a journal for years and making up stories since I was little. Now I write some of them down, but every day I tell myself several stories that will never end up on paper.

For Willow, writing does not come easily, as she has to teach herself. Her most prized possession is the copybook in which she writes letters to her dead mama.

One day, while Willow is riding her horse in the woods, near the tree where she writes these letters, she spots two black men in the forest, one leading the other to freedom. Later, meeting one of those men, Cato, she discovers that he is a freeborn and lives in a town full of free blacks. Amazing! Willow thinks. A whole town full of free black people?

Soon she falls in love with Cato and begins to consider running away. One part of this book which I particularly did not like is when Willow and Cato spend a night together in the woods. It is very romantic and has too much description. The author uses a lot of description throughout the book, and in some places, like this, I thought it was too much.

The thing I liked most about this book was that you felt you knew the characters. Since it is written in the first person, I felt that I was Willow, and I knew all of the other characters.

I was so excited when I got this book, I sat down to start it almost immediately. From the very first page to the very last one, Willow is a powerful book. It talks a lot about human rights and is very accurate and true to the times. One issue that is addressed as well as slavery is male dominance, the fact that men made all the decisions. At the start of the book, Cato is not sure how much rights women deserve, until he meets Willow and realizes that, just as blacks need their rights, so do women.

If you read this book, I hope you find it, as I did, to be a good account of the times back then, written in a way easily related to by modern preteens and teenagers.

Willow Jessica McGaughey
Jessica McGaughey, 13
Odessa, Ontario, Canada