The review was written in exchange for a free ARC via NetGalley.
Let me first start off by saying that Pilu of the Woods is an incredibly beautiful and touching book. The art is lovely as is the story.
Pilu of the Woods is about a young girl, Willow who is trying to understand her emotions after the loss of her mother. Willow and her sister Linnea are both dealing with the loss differently, Linnea is older and trying to step up into a maternal role, while Willow is becoming more introverted.
Willow is being bullied at school and lasing out. This leads to a fight between her and her sister where Willow runs off into the woods with her dog Chico. Both Willow’s parents really love plant life and her father is an ecology professor of some type so Willow feels at home in the woods. She used to go on walks there with her mother as well, and pick her mother’s favorite flower, the magnolia.
While she is walking in the woods after her fight with her sister Willow happens upon another girl who has run away, named Pilu. Pilu is a forest spirit, coincidentally a magnolia tree spirit. Pilu has run away because she feels like she’s never listened to among her twelve sisters. She also feels like her mother, responsible for forest duties, doesn’t really care about her. She is now lost and doesn’t want to go home.
From her walks, with her mother, Willow thinks she knows where Pilu is from and Willow gets Pilu to agree to at least try to go home.
Along their walk back to the magnolia grove Willow talks about nature and tells Pilu about her sister, mother, and father. Their talks about nature are as much talks about emotions as anything, and one central theme that comes up is monsters. Monsters are what Willow calls her ‘negative’ emotions but I think they could very well represent trying to control mental illness.
From her experience when she lets them out, bad things happen, such as the last time she talked to her mother she said something she thought was mean, the things she says when she gets into a fight with her sister, or the negative effects of defending herself from a bully at school.
The monsters are represented in the artwork by these green shapes in jars that appear behind Willow in each scene.
As Pilu and Willow make their way back to the grove it starts to rain more and Pilu’s emotions start to come out. She’s nervous about going back home and nervous that her mother doesn’t want her, Pilu claims that Willow knows nothing about being lonely.
Willow gets angry and her ‘monsters’ start to come out. She tells Pilu that she thinks her mother will always be there and that the ‘monsters’ can’t hurt her.
Then the ‘monsters’ start to show up. Pilu and Willow appear surprised and start to run from them.
As she and Pilu run from the monsters Pilu asks if they are dangerous, and the two get to talking about Willow’s monsters. Pilu wonders how they could be dangerous if they are Willow’s since Willow herself isn’t dangerous. Pilu also notes that the monsters might be lonely since Willow has been trying to ignore them.
As the monsters catch up to Pilu and Willow, the monsters capture Pilu and Willow realizes she has had it all wrong about the monsters. That ignoring them has just made them grow bigger and stronger. Willow thinks back to what she discussed with Pilu about how no one likes to be lonely and makes a choice about how she will deal with her monsters that is the most important one in the whole book.
After that it’s a blur, Willow wakes up at home and the rest of the story is told in flashbacks. Willow eventually ends back at home and apologizes to her sister who apologizes to her. Willow leads Pilu back to the grove where her mother and sisters have missed her. This is the same grove the Willow used to visit with her mother. Pilu gives Willow a magnolia flower for her trouble and tells her to visit again.
The book, however, leaves you with the distinct question of whether any of Willow’s adventures with Pilu were real or not. Or simple her out in nature dealing with her emotions over the loss of her mother. Is Pilu simply the embodied spirit of something her mother loved (magnolias) there to help her along, in processing her feelings of loss and guilt? The author doesn’t make it clear, though they do hint to perhaps it being a real adventure when Willow’s father comments on a magnolia that Willow brought back, a gift from Pilu, being out of season. But I think it’s really up to the reader to decide.
- The way emotional processing is represented
- The art style
- Pilu and Willow’s friendship.
Nothing, it’s a gem.
The book is excellent. My favorite so far this year, the way Willow refers to her emotions as monsters is excellent, and the way the book deals with processing emotions could be helpful to people of any age. Plus it is simply gorgeous. Add on top of that a story about a friendship between two girls and I have to give it 5 stars!
Willow is a person of color living dealing with the loss of her mother. I also believe she could have a mental illness, but that just my view of it. Dealing with loss and lack of proper regulation of emotions are the biggest factors that are dealt with here. I think that is super important as those are issues that aren’t dealt with enough in children’s literature.
I think this is a great book for kids who are having trouble with big emotions or perhaps mental illness. I just really like the way it handles emotional regulation. I also think it could be helpful for someone dealing with a loss.