The Boy from Willow Bend (second edition) Publisher: Hansib (UK) Genre: Fiction (short novel, novella) Year of Release: 2009 ISBN-10: 1906190291/ISBN-13: 978-1906190293 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.
“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!” – Booklempt.gyal on Instagram (p.s. love her pictures and thankful for the inclusion of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Musical Youth among many beloved Caribbean and non-Caribbean books).
“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.” (Murrain)
“…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.” (Sislyn Peters, author of Undocumented Citizen)
“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.”- by Althea Romeo-Mark (author of If Only the Dust Would Settle)
“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.”
Select direct correspondence [personal information redacted]:
“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… [spoilers redacted]”
“… 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 would like to compliment on your book, which I really liked because of the kindness of the protagonist and the idea of Caribbean life and atmosphere it gave to me.” (university student in Italy)
On the blogosphere:
“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.”
“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?”
“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.”
“A short well-told story.”
“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.” (St. Kitts-Nevis author Carol Mitchell, author of Fury on Soufriere Hills)
“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.”
“…great Caribbean book for tweens/teens/YAs.” (@anansesemlitmag)
On Caribbean Literary Salon:
“ It is very visual…There are no wasted words…and yet the picture is so clear and vivid.” Jamaican writer, Claudette Beckford Brady, author of Sweet Home, Jamaica)
On My Space:
“…Won’t be surprised if it eventually becomes part of the curriculum for literature studies in our schools.”
“A powerful book…esp. 4 teens…found it a good read.”
AND NOW, JOURNALS AND OTHER MEDIA
Dr. Natasha Lightfoot in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books, 2011:
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
D. Gisele Isaac, She Caribbean, 2004:
“The book stands out as an example of self-redemption, self-motivation, and self-preservation…”
Karen Walwyn, Expand Your World, Daily Observer, 2003:
“…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.”
Mickel Brann, Daily Observer, 2003:
“The coming of age story is well crafted, lively and absolutely believable.”
Sun Weekend, 2003:
“Hillhouse in The Boy from Willow Bend effectively addresses several issues prevalent in Caribbean society.”
LIAT Islander, 2003:
“A charming novella…”
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See links to other review pages, here.
See links to other articles/interviews related to my books or writing, here.
Plus this link to an academic paper about The Boy from Willow Bend by Vigimaris Nadal-Ramos, University of Puerto Rico.