Review: Pictures of Hollis Woods

Pictures of Hollis Woods by Patricia Reilly Giff

Genres: Middle-Grade, Historical Fiction
Maturity Level: 2
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Rating:
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In this Newbery Honor Book, a troublesome 12-year-old orphan, staying with an elderly artist who needs her, remembers the only other time she was happy in a foster home, with a family that truly seemed to care about her.


Every adult historical fiction in the world it seems like is currently being written with the dual-timeline thing, and I’m just plain tired of it. But the way Giff used it in Pictures of Hollis Woods surprisingly …WORKED. (Also, this book might pre-date that trend, but who knows when it even started…) Partly it worked because this is a middle-grade book, which meant that it already felt less tired by nature of being different. Also I think it helped that both timelines are very close together and feature Hollis as the narrator. Finally, the past timeline is presented as a series of pictures, mostly pictures that Hollis drew. That really is what breathed fresh life into this worn-out trope.

I don’t know why award winning books always have to be so dang depressing, and this one was no exception. The foster system. Yikes. But this IS a reality for so many kids, and it’s important for them to see themselves reflected in literature.

I loved the quirky cast of characters. Hollis is maybe a little familiar to those who read a lot of middle-grade books: always in trouble, scrappy, doesn’t let people too close. But the old woman who cares for her, Josie, was so sweet and caring and unusual. And the family from the past timeline, especially the little boy, were endearing and so ready to love Hollis. Great characterization from Giff!

The rest was … fine. I really didn’t care for how vague Giff was about the time period this book was set in. I think she was going for timeless, but for me personally it was distracting. Her big climax she was building and building toward was predictable, then ultimately less horrible than she had been hinting at. The heartwarming ending had a forced feel-good twist that I thought would have been better left out. But all in all it was a nice story. It had just the right mix of positive and negative emotions. Hollis grows and learns from her mistakes. Learns to love. Finds a family. Everything you would expect from a middle-grade book.

Definitely a good one to have in the library, but probably not one I would read aloud to the class.

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