Friday, January 30, 2009

Diamond Willow

Frost, Helen. 2008. Diamond Willow. New York: Frances Foster. ISBN: 978-0-374-317768

Like a diamond, the concept for Diamond Willow is brilliant. Twelve-year-old Willow is named after a stick, a diamond willow stick, to be precise. When branches are cut from the willow, a diamond shaped scar is left on the branch. Written mostly in first person verse, each page of Willow's thoughts is a diamond-shaped poem; but the brilliance is not in the shape of the poem, it lies in the gem within. Nestled within each poem is a small truth - a truth that resides within Willow but cannot be seen from without,

I love
about dogs;
They don't talk
behind your back.
If they're mad at you,
they bark a couple times
and get it over with. It's true
they slobber on you sometimes.
(I'm glad people don't do that.) They
jump out and scare you in the dark. (I know,
I should say me, not "you" - some people aren't'
afraid of anything.) But dogs don't make fun
of you. They don't hit you in the back
of your neck with an ice-covered
snowball, and if they did, and
it made you cry, all their
friends wouldn't stand
there laughing
at you.
Diamond Willow takes place in a remote Alaskan town where dogs and snowmobiles are the most common form of transportation. Willow is most comfortable with her family and her dogs, especially now, since her closest friend has a boyfriend. When an accident occurs while Willow is mushing the dogs, Willow uncovers the truth within, as well as a closely-held family secret.
More than just a coming-of-age story, Diamond Willow is a mystical tale of Native American spirits that reside within the creatures of the Alaskan wild.
I was unable to find reviews of this book on sites dedicated to Native American literature (Oyate, American Indian Library Association, American Indians in Children's Literature), and am curious if those within the Athabascan community find Diamond Willow to be in keeping with native philosophy. I was pleased to see that the author, Helen Frost, spent much time in Alaska and consulted with an Athabascan elder while writing Diamond Willow.
A thoughtful look at the meaning of family, loss, friendship and love.

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