The Simple Grace of Diamond Willow

A couple weeks ago I had dinner with an old friend who is now an English teacher at a middle school in Houston, TX. Since we became friends in high school, there have been many great discussions of books between us. This visit was no exception. A topic came up that I have discussed with several people, but never someone to whom it was professionally pertinent: Are YA (young adult) books as good, if not better, than books written for adults? I will not say we resolved the question, but we did both agree there are some very well written YA books out there and sometimes the less dramatic relationships in the books allow for more emphasis on the message. They also allow adults to be more aware of the real issues and situations many teenagers face today in ways no one would have imagined a generation before.

My friend gave me a list of suggested juvenile/young adult books. The first on the list was Diamond Willow by Helen Frost. She raved about the storytelling and the uniqueness of the tale. She also said I could finish it in one night- and I did. On a weeknight at that! (Yes, I am delayed with my review)

Before I even comment on the plot, I have to say something about the way the story is told. Each page of narration is told in a diamond. Some of the words in each diamond are bolded and give more insight into what Willow is really trying to say. There are pages of straightforward narration from other surprising characters interspersed. As well as being a clever layout, it also allows the story to move quickly. Frost does not waste words. The tale is simple and beautiful and the Native American culture threaded in gives it a sense of spirituality.

The book is told mainly from the perspective of Diamond Willow, a twelve year old girl who lives in a small town in Alaska. She prefers to be known as Willow since, as she says, “I am not sparkly. I’m definitely not a precious diamond…”. All she really wants is for her parents to not treat her like a child and to blend in to the background at school. Taking care of her family’s sled dogs, especially Roxy, is the highlight of her day. The dogs are also a link to her grandparents, who she feels understand her better than her own parents.

One day, Willow is finally allowed to take the dogs and sled to her grandparent’s home, miles away, alone. It is this taste of freedom and responsibility that changes so much in Willow’s life and the lives of those around her. To say more about the plot would ruin this touching story of hope, family, and forgiveness.

I will say this to close, my evening with Frost’s prose and her genuine characters was the kind of reading experience I don’t always find. I didn’t want to put the book down for dinner or any other interruption. That earns Diamond Willow high marks in my opinion.

Have you read Diamond Willow? What do you think of experimental or unusual narration? Share any comments!