Pictures of Hollis Woods

March 26, 2009
More by this author
Patricia Reilly Giff, author of many children's books including Newbery honor book, Lily's Crossing, weaves a story called Pictures of Hollis Woods about belonging and family in the life of twelve year old Hollis Woods. While this book is generally meant for kids and teens, a lesson that people of all ages should see shines through any real audience specification. As orphan Hollis Woods tells her story, you learn about her troubled past of never having a place where she belonged or a family to love. She's used to not getting attached or staying in one place too long , but what happens when she learns what a family is, and what to love someone feels like? Will she run away from that like she has everything, and everyone, else in the past? I felt this book deserved the shiny Newberry Honor medal it has, and that it combined the elements of a good story: voice, meaning and uniqueness together in a way that will keep readers up at night.

Everything has always been the same for Hollis Woods. Since she was abandoned as a baby, she has moved through too many foster homes to count. As she longs for a real family, Hollis is forced to live with various people, all of which she ends up running away from soon after. And all of which accuse her of being a 'mountain of trouble'. All except for the Regans; the family that made her feel loved, the family she had been searching for. The summer she spent with them showed Hollis many things; like family and love, but also mistakes and self-sacrifice. After that summer, and a downfall of events, Hollis is sent to live with an old artist, Josie. Hollis loves her; her free spirit, her artwork, and the fact that Josie makes her want to stay, instead of running away. But what will happen when, as Josie's old age affects her mind, the foster care thinks that Josie is unfit for a child, and make Hollis move again? And what will happen when Hollis does run away, but this time with Josie? And will Hollis ever be part of a real family again, like the way she felt with the Regans? Hollis tells you her story through dialogue, flashbacks, and dozens of pictures that she has drawn; each one capturing a moment through her journey.

While some can argue about what specifically the book was meant to teach readers, my experience with the book has lead me to think that there are many reasons this book was written, and there are many things you should get out of it. The whole story is a reflection of belonging. Specifically to a family. Its also a story of journey, as Hollis travels from page to page, each one bringing something new to the story.

A subtle, or maybe even obvious to you , goal in this book was the idea of running away. The book left out Hollis's past; the twelve years leading up to the events in the story. But you see that up until the Regans, Hollis has always been running away from everyone and everything. After Hollis makes a mistake with the Regans, she runs away from them too. When she thought she would have to leave Josie, they ran away together. Hollis has always been running. I believe that, in the end, the book is trying to show you that running away never fixes anything. Without revealing anything, I will just say that everything would have been much easier for her if Hollis just faced her problems or faced her mistakes or faced the fact that she was loved, instead of just running away from everything. Because no matter how far you run, your problems never just leave.

While I am not an orphan, and you probably aren't either, I believe we also all have a way to relate to this book. We all don't walk around in life feeling an unbreakable bond of love between every stranger on the street. But the way Hollis felt with the Regans, like belonging, reminds me of the way I feel with my 'dance family'. I wouldn't trade any of them for a million bucks, and I can always count on them to share amazing memories with. While Hollis expressed her life through drawing, I express myself through dance. Each page in the book that explained a drawing of Hollis's was refreshing and nostalgic; a unique writing touch that I loved from the author.

I can also relate this book to others, like the belonging and family tales of Walk Two Moons. While Pictures of Hollis Woods was not quite as capturing or long as Walk Two Moons, it faired up well.

I recommend this book to anyone and everyone. Pictures of Hollis Woods may not be a book you'll obsess over or read a hundred times, but I believe that it's a unique story that will touch you heart, and maybe even teach you a lesson on what it means to belong.

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