The Boy from Willow Bend Study Guide (Author Edition)

Pictured: draft The Boy from Willlow Bend covers by Antiguan and Barbudan artist Heather Doram. The one in the middle was selected for the second edition of my first book The Boy from Willow Bend.
The Boy from Willow Bend - COVER.p65

I had an exchange with a teacher recently. She told me how much her students loved The Boy from Willow Bend and said they wanted a sequel. I suggested she have them write what they think or would like to see happen next. She said she had but they still want the official sequel. And we laughed. That conversation came back to me not long after as I looked through the site stats and realized how many Willow Bend related searches there are. So as my thanks to that teacher and her students for the love, while I can’t promise that I’ll ever finish that sequel, and while I haven’t read The Boy from Willow Bend since I wrote it, I’m doing this post in which I answer the main search questions landing people here. Consider it a long overdue but also spoiler-y (so read at your own risk) The Boy from Willow Bend Study Guide (Author Edition) – if you’re a student using this Guide, remember, don’t just copy-paste; form your own ideas, and always credit the ideas you borrow. May you find this useful; may I feel inspired.

“About characters in the Boy from Willow Bend”/ “The main characters in the Boy from Willow Bend”/ “Three main characters in The Boy from Willow Bend”

The main character is Vere – a boy who lives in a dead end alley on Antigua  with his maternal grandparents. His mother’s moved ‘up North’. He’s never known his father. He’s smart and imaginative, qualities we see challenged but not extinguished as he grows and experiences all the big l’s – love, loss, lack, loneliness.

Supporting or secondary characters include his mother – who is the love of his life but who soon leaves (in fact, in the timeline of the story, she’s already left the first time we see Vere run barefoot in the dark between the hulking willow trees toward his home); his Tanty – who is his foundation – until she too leaves in a way leaving him adrift; his grandfather who is defined by his abusive behaviour but who, in time, when it’s just them, Vere has to learn to understand; June – a previously unknown family member who comes to live with him and his grandparents after his mother leaves and who is technically his aunt but becomes like a big sister to him after a rough start; his playmates – Kim and Kendall who are the somewhat stuck-up kids you might meet in a mixed class community, you know the ones, you’re all around the same age and you play together anyway even if they might not let you in their house – until they too go away; his first love, who was someone else’s love, Makeba (I remember she was one of my favourite characters to write, and, though the older girl to Vere, too young for the man she was with); and I’m going to add his teenage love Elizabeth, though, as with most teenage love affairs, their love was as fleeting as she was flighty. There are other characters – notable for me, Mrs. Quashie with whom June lives for a while, she’s a preacher’s wife and her home should have been a safe haven for June but it wasn’t; teachers like Mr. Goode, who showed genuine interest in Vere, though he may not have appreciated it – you know that teacher who is just a little bit too involved and annoying because of it but when you’re grown and look back really made a difference in your life, that’s Mr. Goode; other alley dwellers like Kim and Kendall’s grandparents, the Buckleys, his grandfather’s temporary live-in girlfriend Drunkin Angela, the old white man on the corner, and the Rasta, Djimon, Makeba’s lover, who showed him a different way of seeing; other agents of societal authority and sometimes indifference like the nun, the police… etc.

“Give two reasons for Vere’s anger against God in the Boy from Willow Bend”

Tanty was everything to Vere; she made his world solid. And she was objectively good and self-sacrificing, not to mention a true believer. She didn’t just die prematurely, she suffered. Vere can’t reconcile in his mind why she had to suffer so, like punishment, before her death. He can’t really articulate that but he knows that her dying scared him and broke his heart, and given all her goodness, from his perspective, it wasn’t fair. More importantly though Vere is angry at God for taking Tanty away from him. There are other things to extrapolate from Vere’s anger and confusion re God – the fact that God is a bearded white man in the sky, seeing all, knowing all, and doing nothing to help those who need it most, also more an overseer than someone to whom he can legitimately relate and whose love he can feel as he felt Tanty’s love.

“Describe Vere’s character in the Boy from Willow Bend”/ “The character Vere from Willow Bend what is his personality”

I think I mostly did this above. I’ll add only that he has a sensitive soul though his spirit is hardened by time, and that resilience kids – especially kids in hard luck situations – learn as a matter of survival. He’s also musically talented.

“Where in Antigua is dead end alley”

Dead End Alley was actually inspired by a couple of locations from my early childhood kind of blended in to each other as we do in the dreamscape that is fiction – in actuality the willow trees and the hedges with the butterflies don’t exist in the same place, and the pond was somewhere else altogether. So, I suppose, Dead End Alley doesn’t exist in any particular place in Antigua, though the Antigua that inspired it was the Ottos of my earliest childhood, re-imagined.

“Summary The Boy from Willow Bend”

It’s the story of Vere, coming of age in a dead end alley on Antigua in the Caribbean, abandoned in many ways throughout the course of the story by people leaving or dying, but emerging in to young adulthood still standing, though dinged and bruised by the experiences that have made him.

“Summary on chapter 5 of the boy from willow bend”/ “Summary on each chapter of the Boy from Willow Bend”

I’m going to take a pass on the chapter by chapter breakdown. The chapters are very short and for the most part self-contained. I wrote them as little postcards of these significant moments in Vere’s life as he comes of age.

“Who is Appie from The Boy from Willow Bend”

Appie, in the book, is one of those healers who knows which bush to use for what, and who recommended a bush bath for Vere when Tanty was worried about him. In my own family/lore, Appie was my mother’s grandmother (like Tanty was mine). I never knew her but grew up hearing about her, and, as far as I’m aware, she had nothing to do with bush medicine. I suspect I chose the name because I associate that traditional knowledge with age. And, yes, the bush bath scene is ripped from real life; and that’s all I’m saying on that.

“What is the theme of The Boy from Willow Bend”/ “What is the book The Boy from Willow Bend about”

What is this book about? I was just telling the story of a precocious boy growing up in a dead end alley, who had boyish adventures and experienced world altering loss, who was in some ways an obstinate little boy but also felt things deeply, who was shaped by his environment (and by environment I don’t just mean the alley – but all the people who helped him become who he is, the community of people who help make us who we are), who grew up not the boy he was at the beginning but still with something of the boy still in him, if a little more broken, a little less trusting and hopeful, a little harder and more shut-down. Within it there is some indirect and some pointed commentary re class, gender, family, Caribbean society (great affection re Caribbean society but criticism as well), and the critics have had their say on the various themes and sub-themes (so you can read those here and here’s a Boy from Willow Bend themed research paper). I will say this though that the epigraph “a child left in the wilderness will learn to catch ghost”, borrowed from CnD, my writer-colleague and flat mate the summer I started writing this story, was like a beacon to me as this story emerged; it helped orient me to what this story was about – a boy trying to find his way as the people that could/would guide him in some way or other slipped one by one from the scene, leaving him to sort of feel around in the dark, and how and who he emerges as on the other side of that.

“Explanation of The Boy from Willow Bend chapter 25”

Is there a Chapter 25. I don’t remember. But if there is this is one of those questions I think is asking for student insight, not mine.

atboyfromwillowbendlaunch
Pictured: Me, in 2003 at the book signing launch of The Boy from Willow Bend. It was initially published as part of the Macmillan Caribbean Writers series. That’s the first cover on my t-shirt.

“The Boy from Willow Bend literary device(s)”

This would require more of a fine tooth comb than I have right now – it’s been a while since I wrote The Boy from Willow Bend. One thing I will say though is that the natural and the supernatural co-existing was not unheard of as an idea, or a belief system, when I was coming of age in Ottos, Antigua, and so in the novella, I accept that reality and explored how the natural and supernatural interacted/intersected from the boy’s perspective. So, it could be argued, if one was inclined to argue, that though very realistic fiction – including natural Caribbean inflected dialogue, imagery rooted in Caribbean reality, unromantic handling of tough issues like illness, death, and abuse – it has elements of magical realism.

“Poems on The Boy from Willow Bend”

Are there poems on The Boy from Willow Bend? Now I’m curious to see them.
pop up book the boy from wb2

Pictured: I have received images of student art over the years though. 
The Boy from Willow Bend1

“Summary of the girl June in the book The Boy from Willow Bend”

This is a tough one. The easiest way I could do this is to say that she was in sharp contrast to main character Vere who is still open-eyed and open-hearted when the novella begins. We get the sense that June is all sharp edges and tough skin, and that she’s been through some stuff and has bounced around a bit by the time she comes to live in the house at Dead End Alley. And though Vere’s grandfather is technically her father, we see no love between them (which is an understatement considering that one of the more violent acts in the book was perpetrated  by him against her); in fact, it is Tanty she comes to love and care for – showing that despite everything, she is capable of loving and caring if she receives it. We see it also in her relationship with Vere – to whom she sort of becomes like sister-mother. Her exchange with Ms. Quashie is a reminder as she grows that she still punches hard – whether with her tongue or fists – when hurt or afraid. She is tough but she is also a girl who has had to grow up too fast and too rough, for whom relationships almost always come at a price, but who eventually gets her chance at a better life, and to be reunited with her mother, even though it means leaving Vere behind.

“Story on The Boy from Willow Bend and the main events that occur in the story”

I think I’ve touched on some of the story and main events, but the best way to know the story is to read it.

“Analysis of The Boy from Willow Bend”

This is definitely not the writer’s job. See the critics’ links earlier in this post and also explore how you think the writer did her job, and how successfully.

“What are the problems that many face in The Boy from Willow Bend”

Many? Meaning… okay, well, poverty is one – as evidenced by how dependent they are on the funds from family that’s migrated to the U.S., like Vere’s mother; so, poverty and all the challenges that come with that. Plus, abuse – physical, verbal, sexual – these all happen to characters in the book. Loss and/or abandonment – through people leaving or dying, and the vulnerability it creates for those left behind, especially children like Vere and June. Those are some off the top of my head – those and for Vere finding his way without anyone to anchor him after Tanty dies and June leaves.

“How did June from the boy from willow bend story dress”

I don’t remember. Did I say how she dressed? If not, imagine it.

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