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.

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.


The 50 Questions You’ve Never Been Asked Tag

Tagging in after reading Liz Whitehouse’s responses over at Travel in Retrospect. If it’s your first time here I am Joanne C. Hillhouse, an author of several books, and I live where you vacation.

Antigua So Beautiful BA

Falmouth Harbour and English Harbour, Antigua, from Monk’s Hill.

1. What’s Your Favourite Candle Scent?
I’m more inclined to light up incense than candles these days…usually something purple.

2. What female celebrity do you wish was your sister?
First person to pop into my head was Gabrielle Union…probably because I just read an article on her. She’s pretty real though so, sure.

Pink 2018 b

Me, right, with my real life sister.

3. What male celebrity do you wish was your brother?
Brother like Paul Rudd was Cher’s brother in Clueless… if so, Chadwick Boseman, Black Panther era.
Chadwick Boseman
4. How old do you think you’ll be when you get married?

5. Do you know a hoarder?
Like a you have issues type hoarder?… can’t think of any one.

6. Can you do a split?

7. How old were you when you learned to ride a bike?
Never did.

8. How many oceans have you swum in?
None…but I’ve been wading in to our 365 beaches all my life.



9. How many countries have you been to?
Hmmm…seems to be about mid-20s.

Me en route to Mykonos

En route to Mykonos, Greece.

10. Is anyone in your family in the army?
Have been.

11. What would you name your daughter if you had one?
I’ve given those names away, I think, to the characters in my books …and to one of my nieces whom I named Aaliyah (meaning “exalted” in Swahili).

Aaliyahs 18th


12. What would you name your son if you had one?
Gave those away too…Aeden (from Oh Gad!) is a character name I really like, especially for its meaning, “little, fiery” in Gaelic.
Oh Gad cover
13. What’s the worst grade you got on a test?
What came to mind was failing the entry exam to the university programme I had my mind set on…that and my first driver’s test. I went anyway, which was probably best, especially since I made the Dean’s List and earned a Faculty prize that first year, re-applied for the programme and got in and did well. I re-took the driver’s test too.

14. What was your favourite TV show as a child?
I don’t know if this was a favourite, I was a TV soup as a kid… (what do you mean was?)… but there’s a TV show (Canadian, I think) called The Green Forest that my sister and I watched when we were really little, and for years nobody else remembered it whenever I brought it up…which made it almost seem like something I’d made up, except my sister remembered it too… plus I found it on You Tube the other day, so it’s definitely not my Shazaam.


Never. Happened.

15. What did you dress up as Halloween when you were eight?
When I was eight we didn’t dress up for Halloween (the only costumes we cared about on Antigua were Carnival costumes in the summer) … around the time of year when Americans were doing Halloween, we were all about starlites and bombs/fireworks for Guy Fawkes…the American influence has usurped the British influence on the island in my lifetime though so Guy Fawkes has faded and Halloween is apparently all the rage. But none of them can touch Carnival.

With Grace

My most recent Carnival costume, 2017 as a character from one of my books, the mango tree faerie in the picture book With Grace.

16. Have you read any of the Harry Potter, Hunger Games or Twilight series?
No. Seen some of the films, that’s about it.

17. Would you rather have an American or English accent?
I’ll stick with my Caribbean accent, thanks.

18. Did your mother go to college?

19. Are your grandparents still married?
My grandparents are all deceased.

20. Have you ever taken karate lessons?
No. I was an arts kid – dance lessons, majorettes, guitar lessons, choir, glee club, and anything book/reading/writing related.

21. Do you know Kermit the frog?
Yes. I liked Kermit on Sesame Street when he was in reporter mode…foreshadowing.

22. What’s the first amusement park you’ve been to?
We had Coney islands that came to the island sometimes; one of those would have been the first. Later, in my university years, I think, I would do Disney, Universal Studios, Sea World, Busch Gardens all in one summer.

23. What language, besides your native language, would you like to be fluent in?
Spanish. I studied French in school but I didn’t like the class. I took Spanish classes as an adult and did well with reading and writing it, but I’ve never really done the immersion in a Spanish country needed to make speaking it second nature. I would practice or try to when I visited Spanish countries like the Dominican Republic and Mexico…and they would usually switch to English to be …accommodating? polite?… when responding.

24. Do you spell the colour as grey or gray?
Well, I still default to the British spelling of most things since that’s how I learned it in school…so grey.

25. Is your father bald?
Barbershop bald.

26. Do you know triplets?

27. Do you prefer Titanic or The Notebook?
Neither. Both were recommended to me (you have to see!) but I really didn’t like either one nor do I understand their appeal. And I like plenty romances, including historical romances, so it’s not that.

28. Have you ever had Indian food?

29. What’s the name of your favourite restaurant?
Hmmm…it depends, I mean KFC counts as a restaurant, right? Lol…I really don’t eat out a lot but for dining out (as opposed to just eating) Trappas and Papa’s by the Sea, both in English Harbour, Antigua are two of my favourites. For pizza, it’s Big Banana in Redcliffe Quay; speaking of Redcliffe Quay my birthday dinners this year were at Cutie’s and at C & C’s (Cutie’s for the first time, C & C’s I’d been to several times before) and enjoyed both. I like the sushi at The Larder. But I also have my favourite roti place, Verna’s Roti Hut, a takeout place in Brown’s Avenue, my favourite bread sandwich shop (Big Deli), Dagon’s in Ottos for bun and cheese or bun and sausage to go, Beach Limerz at Fort James is good for lunch or drinks, I have my street food spots for rice pudding (what some call black pudding) and for barbeque…and again, KFC, we do have the best KFC in Antigua #facts … so it depends. Oh, plus, everywhere I ate in New Orleans, the food there bang good.

restaurant art selfie

This one was taken on Bourbon Street, where I had my po-boy.

30. Have you ever been to Olive Garden?

31. Do you belong to any warehouse stores (Costco, BJ’s, etc.)?
Well, one of the supermarkets I have a loyalty card with is kinda like a warehouse store, so much that when a virus infects people on the island in my story Zombie Island, I have survivors hide out in a supermarket modeled on that store, Epicurean, when I realized that it kinda has everything you would need to live for…like a year.

32. What would your parents have named you if you were the opposite gender?
No clue. I mean they didn’t name me this time. That was my grandmother (tanty).

33. If you have a nickname what is it?
*rant alert* I mean how hard is it to get Joanne right? Right! But people have called me everything from Joan to Joanna.*rant over* I’ve been Jo, Jo-Jo. I don’t mind those but the only alternate name I really claim is Jhohadli – a pen name since my university years – courtesy one of my block (dorm) mates, it’s also the name of my blog.

34. Who’s your favourite person in the world?
You’re trying to get me in trouble. I mean, chances are the person who thinks they’re my favourite person won’t read this blog, but why take the chance. Let’s just go with whoever isn’t pissing me off today.

35. Would you rather live in a rural area or a city?
Kinda somewhere in between like I do now.

36. Can you whistle?
Regular whistle, yes. But that whistle guys do with their fingers, no; more’s the pity.

37. Do you sleep with a night light?
No. I do need music or something though.

38. Do you eat breakfast every morning?
Does coffee count?

39. Do you take pills or any medication daily?

40. What medical conditions do you have?
While acknowledging that this has already gotten quite personal, 40 questions in my answer is, that’s personal.

41. How many times have you been to the hospital?
I’m afraid to tempt Murphy with this answer but, too many.

42. Have you ever seen Finding Nemo?
Yep; loved it.

Lost Cover Front 4

No, neither of these guys are Nemo…but you can find out who they are in my own under sea adventure, the picture book Lost!

43. Where do you buy your jeans?
Wherever I can find ones that fit and the sales staff aren’t snooty.

44. What’s the last compliment you got?
Recently I was in one of those lines we all have to stand in at some time and feeling like crap for more reasons than the tedium of being in line when a teacher further back in the line hailed me up to tell me that her kids want a sequel to my first book The Boy from Willow Bend, which they are reading in school, because they want to know what becomes of the main character beyond the last page of the book. I couldn’t promise her a sequel, but, having a few over-it teens in my own family, it was nice to hear about secondary (high) school kids, 3rd formers specifically, being that engaged with the book.
The Boy from Willow Bend - COVER.p65
45. Do you usually remember your dreams in the morning?
Some. Most. Probably. I mean, I wouldn’t remember the ones I forgot, would I?

46. What flavour tea do you enjoy?
Well, since I grew up in Antigua in a time when every hot beverage was called tea, I’m going to go with coffee.

47. How many pairs of shoes do you currently own?
Given that shoe shopping is not fun for big-footed women, only as many as I need.

48. What religion will you raise your children to practice?
If I had children, love.

49. How old were you when you found out that Santa wasn’t real?
Never thought he was. We don’t have snow and sleigh bells and ruddy red men here…I think we were born knowing… (then; I don’t know about these newfangled kids)
50. Why do you have a blog?
I have two blogs. The Wadadli Pen blog I started first to promote the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize which is the youth writing programme I founded and coordinate here in Antigua and Barbuda, and more broadly the literary (and other) arts. The Jhohadli blog I started, I believe, when my third book, first full length novel, Oh Gad! was coming out for promotional purposes. Its purpose has expanded in the time since. it’s a way to connect with readers, other book lovers, and potential clients as a space that showcases my services, my books, and my love of books; and shares my journey as a writer and my thoughts on things, usually things artistic (reviews of films, TV, books, music, whatever’s on my mind).

Lost! Appearance

March 23rd – 25th – specifically Sunday 25th March at the 2018 New Fire Festival in Trinidad & Tobago. It’s in the Sunday line-up. Alas, I won’t be there. It’s a money thing; but Trinidad based illustrator of Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure, Danielle Boodoo Fortune will be presenting – next best thing. Disappointed still because this festival looks dope.

See past Appearances and find out more about booking me for events.

You know I had to do a Black Panther post, right?

I don’t have a Black Panther review. I don’t know if I will. But I wanted to share some of the more interesting video clips I’ve come across on youtube. In the first one the director breaks down one of the key action scenes, interesting to budding filmmakers and even writers, I think; the second is pure fangirl/boy geekdom as it uncovers every bit of hidden meaning; and the third focuses on what makes it good writing. Cool (spoiler heavy) clips. Also, I LOVE THIS (moving, meaningful, and masterfully made) MOVIE! Go see it; see I am Not Your Negro too, if you get a chance – that’s the other movie (one of last year’s Oscar nominated documentaries) I’ve seen recently and I highly recommend it.

p.s. you should check out Black Panther director Ryan Coogler’s earlier movies as well – Black Panther makes him three for three after Fruitvale Station and Creed.

Lost! Now Available as an Audio Book

Lost! A Caribbean Sea Adventure has become my first book available in audio format. In fact, it’s available in more formats than any of my books to this point –

books 2018

The Boy from Willow Bend (published with UK independent with Caribbean roots, Hansib) is paperback only

Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings (published with Canadian press, Insomniac) is available in kindle and paperback

Oh Gad! (published with Strebor an imprint within Simon & Schuster in the US) is available in kindle, paperback, and mass market paperback

Musical Youth (published by independent Caribbean press CaribbeanReads publishing, also the publisher of Lost!) is available in paperback and kindle

With Grace (published by US based independent with Caribbean roots, Little Bell Caribbean) is available in hardcover (not counting the special paperback edition done for the 2017 USVI Governor’s Summer Read Challenge)

Lost! meanwhile is available in paperback, hardcover, kindle, and audio.

Go here to listen to a sample and hopefully buy, read, review, share.

Go here for information on all my books #onthehustle #TheWritingLife


Share: Antigua & Barbuda Literary Culture

Well, the flu gods looked in on my plans for the week (and probably also thought I was feeling myself too much after seeing Black Panther last weekend) and they said, I see you and I raise you. #TKO Well, the only thing being raised this week was the roof on my neighbour’s house which became real when it hit me that the view through my bedroom window of the hills beyond was blocked. I’ve actually been writing a character who has a hugely emotional reaction to that – the blocked view not the flu – so maybe this’ll help me understand her a little better. Though honestly I’ve been too physically flattened this week to be emotional about much of anything…ah, life.  Should’ve known it was going to be a bumpy (or laid on my ass) week when my Monday morning TV appearance was cancelled.

I am starting to poke my head back out in to the land of the living and wanted to share a post about the literary culture in Antigua and Barbuda from my other blog. How I approached it was looking at the significant events in a number of categories in the years I’ve been doing that blog. So, for instance, the 2010 entry reads:

This blog launched in April 2010 and committed to spotlighting not only the Wadadli Youth Pen Prize (a project committed to nurturing and showcasing the literary arts in Antigua and Barbuda since 2004) but the literary arts (and then some) in Antigua and Barbuda (and beyond) – one example of the type of coverage I did as site blogger from that first year was ‘Lit Happenings Antigua-Barbuda Nov 1-8 2010′.

Antigua and Barbuda International Literary Festival launched in 2006 by two entrepreneurial (Montserratian!) sisters with strong author support and so much potential but, notwithstanding a revival in 2010, unfortunately has not survived.

Wadadli Pen Open Mic launched in 2010 using the Wadadli Pen name but run by the Best of Books and acting as a development platform for young/budding writers.

The Cushion Club – a reading club for children in Antigua and Barbuda – continued its relationship with Buckley’s Primary; this project began with school visits by me and CC leader Cedric Holder to the school, one of several schools we’ve both visited over the years, to read and run story workshops. The prize was sponsored by Cedric on behalf of the Cushion Club because of his desire to encourage greater interest and aptitude in the humanities. Cedric has also consistently contributed a prize to the Wadadli Pen Challenge on behalf of the Cushion Club.

Wadadli Pen returned after a 3 year hiatus – its life 2004-2010 to that time chronicled in this post.

Voices from the Lagoon, a collection of student writings shepherded by scribe and teacher Fransene Massiah-Headley released.

Number of publications in 2010 (not including the student publication which isn’t listed in the data base of Antiguan and Barbudan Writings, and specific to publication whether independently or with a local, regional or international press, ebook or print or both, by Antiguan and Barbudan writers living in Antigua and Barbuda):  7

Read the entire post over at Wadadli Pen.