Reviews and Endorsements – The Boy from Willow Bend

The Boy from Willow Bend (second edition) Publisher: Hansib Genre: Fiction (short novel, novella) Year of Release: 2009 ISBN-10-1906190291/ISBN-13: 978-1906190293  Cover art by: Heather Doram Format: paperback

Synopsis: The Boy from Willow Bend tells the story of Vere, an Antiguan youth, with an irrepressible spirit which is tested as he comes of age amid poverty, loss, and hard knocks. The women in his life – his absent mother, longsuffering Tanty, rebellious June, first crushes Kim and Makeba, and first girlfriend Elizabeth – help shape him; so, too, his abrasive grandfather and others. In the end, though, he grows into his own person; bright, talented, a survivor. The Boy from Willow Bend, originally published by Macmillan in 2003, is on the schools’ reading list in Antigua and Barbuda, and Anguilla, and has been taught at the graduate level at the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras. First Page



“A charming novella…” – LIAT Islander, 2003

“I’ve just read your book [The Boy from Willow Bend] this morning and was so extremely moved! I cried quite a few times throughout. It’s so moving and beautiful. I know it’s a book about an Antiguan boy, but some of the hardships and joys of Vere reminded me of my own childhood in a poor small mining town of East Ukraine. Great fiction is universal! And all the unique details about the Antiguan life were a joy to read. Thank you for this profound experience! I’m now very keen to read your Dancing Nude in the Moonlight …” – Vera Monotti Graziadei, actress and filmmaker, 2020


(book reviews published)
“For its thoughtful rendering of complex issues such as gender, class, migration and death, for the swiftness of Hillhouse’s prose, and especially for the captivating personality with which she endows the title character, readers will be instantly drawn to this narrative…Hillhouse has crafted a story that adult and young readers alike can enjoy, that truly captures the spirit of Antigua’s recent past.” – Dr. Natasha Lightfoot in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books, 2011

“Hillhouse’s lean language—thank God for journalists who are writers—makes this a book that any challenged reader could master. The plot is exciting and moves swiftly. The themes, which include trust, love, and feelings of self-worth, appeal to all teenagers. The characters in Hillhouse’s book feel real and, best of all, they feel Caribbean, but the story could have held up in any culture. Change the names and the setting and this could be any teenage boy’s story. Still, Hillhouse has managed not to make this just a “boy” book. I quite enjoyed reading it and I think teenage girls will also enjoy the novel because of Vere’s need for a mother. I also like the characters’ voices. They express a wide range of emotion, from depression and despair to anger and joy. Too many Caribbean children are in Vere’s unstable social position. This makes Hillhouse’s novel great for discussion.” – Debbie Jacob for the Trinidad Guardian, 2004

“The book stands out as an example of self-redemption, self-motivation, and self-preservation…” – D. Gisele Isaac, She Caribbean, 2004

“…amazingly true characters…weaves a tapestry of village life in the Caribbean…captures the importance of women in social hierarchy of Caribbean households and the everyday issues that these same women have to deal with. She explores their sexuality, their love, their hate and their desperation to escape a life that seemingly goes nowhere – a dead end. Hillhouse also exhibits an incredible understanding of social issues in the Caribbean – child abandonment, abuse, promiscuity. She touches the problems of classism and the gulf that separates the ‘privileged’ and ‘not-so-privileged’…Quick, tight and thought provoking writing holds the reader in its grip…A lovely and engaging book that, in my opinion, is destined for the classrooms of Antigua, if not the entire Caribbean. This is a great and insightful look at Caribbean life and the future of our children.” – Karen Walwyn, Expand Your World, Daily Observer, 2003

“The coming of age story is well crafted, lively and absolutely believable.” – Mickel Brann, Daily Observer, 2003

“Hillhouse in The Boy from Willow Bend effectively addresses several issues prevalent in Caribbean society.” – Sun Weekend, 2003

(book reviews blogged)

“All in all, for a short book this novel had a profound effect on me. The straightforward prose masks a sense of melancholy and I found myself getting quite sad as the novel progressed, as there seems to be a tone, not just of sadness, but of resignation. When Vere cries into the belly of an unknown woman as he desperately wants comfort after Tanty passes, the way the reverend’s wife runs back to her husband knowing he abused June and the manner in which Franklyn is fed corn to stop him talking while he tries to make tearful amends with Vere all add up to a prevailing sense of lonesomeness. A sense of futility in the face of overbearing internal forces. A must read.” – World Book Tour

“The musicality of the authentic, Antiguan language resonates like wind dipping in and out of multicolored bottle trees…Vere’s story may take place in Antigua, but the problems he experiences are universal. The book is a great resource to discuss those experiences in the classroom and learn about different cultures and language.  Language inquiry offers adolescents to study language through a network of social constructs such as gender, power structures, race/culture, and class.  It also provides them with an opportunity to study the structure of language linguistically.  Students can examine the lexicon/vocabulary, morphology, phonetics, syntax, rhetorical features, and pragmatic nature of the Antiguan language.” – Alexandra Caselle @ Womanlution: Inside the Mind of Alexandra Caselle Read the full article

“This brilliant ninety-five page novel, set on the island of Antigua, exposes the small brutal world in which the central character, an adolescent named, Vere,  exists. It also delves into themes of abandonment, economic migration, parent  surrogacy, abuse and the coming of age…Joanne Hillhouse has written a novel that not only teaches a lesson for life, but it also unveils psychosocial problems faced by children who daily cope with abandonment, unstable homes and abuse in the Caribbean and other areas in the world. Parents immigrate in search of a better life, thus leaving children behind to face an uncertain future. Isn’t it ironic?” – Althea Romeo Mark , author of If Only the Dust Would Settle Read the full article

THE BOY FROM WILLOW BEND by Joanne Hillhouse is a typical coming of age story with an island feel, through the use of language.  Hillhouse did a wonderful job describing various scenes throughout the book; I could picture myself walking down the dirt roads looking at the willow trees or listening to the street musicians as I walked down the street.  …this books has the potential to teach some valuable lessons.” – Tawana Price for Rawsistaz Literary Group, 2011 Read full article

#Reader Reviews (and shout outs)

“I recommend everyone to read this book. It is a combination of fiction and reality in the life of a small boy who grew up in Antigua Barbuda. Once again Joanne did an awesome job producing this book.”

“Joanne C. Hillhouse has used her skills in economy to create this ninety-five page gem. It is quite relatable if you have Caribbean roots. But issues such as love, struggles, poverty, abuse and redemption are universal–hence The Boy from Willow Bend also has an international appeal. Ms. Hillhouse’s work is a significant contribution to the literary arts in the Caribbean and it also helps in the preservation of West Indian history and folk lore. You will shed a tear or a few and you will have lots to laugh and think about.”

“…a well written, engaging, quick read, with a fleshy, well-rounded main character…Young and older adults can identify with the stages and emotions Vere experiences.”

“I found the story of the boy in the novel, The Boy from Willow Bend, by Joanne Hillhouse, to be a universal one. The story, set in Antigua, is about an adolescent child who blooms despite impossible situations and conditions. The road to adulthood is filled with joy and pain. It is a story that plays out in every culture.”

“The author warmly and realistically portrays many aspects of true Caribbean life. We root for the main character as he navigates his way through the twists and turns that his life takes, each event shaping his reaction to the next.”

“Useful stories for discussion, especially ‘Slater Minnifie and the Beat Boy Machine’, and ‘The Man Who Loved Flowers’ are in FLYING WITH ICARUS by Curdella Forbes. Two other Caribbean boy’s books are LEGEND OF ST ANN’S FLOOD by Debbie Jacob and THE BOY FROM WILLOW BEND by Joanne Hillhouse.” – Helen Williams, author of Delroy and the Marog Princess Read the full article

(Caribbean Literary Salon)
“ It is very visual…There are no wasted words…and yet the picture is so clear and vivid.” – Claudette Beckford Brady, author of Sweet Home, Jamaica

“This is gonna be one of those books that I’m still wrapped up in days after I finished reading it… I feel as if I am one of the spirits that Vere may or may not be able to see who was watching over him over the years and then suddenly he was gone. I feel somehow invested in the outcome of his life.”

“…an entertaining journey through childhood cleverly interwoven with a very real picture of Caribbean life.”

“As I read The Boy from Willow Bend a few years ago, I was immediately reminded of Miguel Street, a book which I also thoroughly enjoyed. I thought it would be a great addition to our schools’ syllabus.”

“The figure in the straw hat spooked me, though, but it would not have been a true Caribbean story without the presence of an apparition of some sort. The author has demonstrated enviable skills in economy of words–covering so much with so little. For those who grew up reading–and loving–stories from The Sun’s Eye, you’d definitely appreciate this book. Read it.”

“I especially liked her character (June), hard life, quiet strength, survivor, feisty…I also liked the Rastafarian girl in the woods. I appreciated the affection both she and June showed to Vere.”

“A short well-told story.”

“A powerful book…esp. 4 teens…found it a good read.”


“My first book for read Caribbean features author @jhohadli Joanne C. Hillhouse. This was a great read. … This novel was a relatable read about childhood experiences in Antigua. Many children (including myself) were raised by their grandparents for whatever reasons. Reading this book also brought some nostalgia of how life differs now.”


“I taught Joanne C. Hillhouse’s Boy from Willow Bend about 2-3 years ago at a secondary school here in #Antigua. My students and I found Vere’s effervescent spirit, despite his familial struggles, very refreshing and infectious. We also had animated discussions on corporal punishment, which is still legal in schools and is something many of us have experienced. The novel is an enchanting and relatable read about childhood experiences in my island home. Many children grow up estranged from at least one parent and so are raised, in full or in part, by grandmothers. It’s always a pleasure to read about the trials of growing up in your own country from someone else’s perspective. Also, my mommy calls me “poopsie” all the time and so hearing one of the characters, Tanty, use that term of endearment with Vere was nothing short of heart-warming!”

(My Space)
“…Won’t be surprised if it eventually becomes part of the curriculum for literature studies in our schools.”


TwitterTwitter TBFWBthe boy from willow bend twitter

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“…great Caribbean book for tweens/teens/YAs.” –  @anansesemlitmag

(personal notes)
“Read THE BOY FROM WILLOW BEND with my daughter for the first time yesterday, it was real interesting. … have u ever thought of having a follow up story to this book? would be so interested to find out what happened to… ”

“… loved your skilful interweaving of the creoles and cadences of local language and the contours and landscapes of Antigua into a beautiful novel for young readers.”

“… it was our summer reading selection at the [name redacted] Book Club summer camp. The campers, and even our school bus driver and conductress, enjoyed it…I love the new cover!”

“I’m laughing so hard at some of the humorous parts.”

“I like your fleshy main character, Vere, from his ‘bony hands and skinny knees’ to his liking to be left alone, and going for water. Lived it. Love it!”

“I finished your book this morning. I couldn’t put it down actually. It is such a realistic story of how a child bloomed despite impossible situations and conditions…The great thing about it is that it is not only a Caribbean story but a universal one that all cultures can identify with.”

“…it was awesome…a definite must read.”

“Your book makes me love my children a little harder and touches on all things unhealed inside of me.”

“It’s wonderful…the boy is funny, heartbreaking and at the end you made me cry.”

“It’s a moving and memorable tale.”

“I’m a 27 years old Italian student of Literary Translation at the University of Pisa, and I’m translating Your book The boy from Willow Bend into Italian as part of my educational requirements for my graduation  on Post Colonial Literature. …I would like to compliment on Your book, which I really like because of the kindness of the protagonist and the idea of Caribbean life and atmosphere it gave to me. I chose You book from the many my teacher proposed to me.” – S.V., Italy

Related Links:

Launch Gallery 2003
Education as a factor in social mobility in The Boy from Willow Bend by Joanne C. Hillhouse Study Guide
A Walk Down Memory Lane – Willow Bend Edition


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