This Newbury Honor Book is the third book in my recent reading that deals with foster children/orphans, or underprotected young adults on the fringes of social services. (Preceded by Invisible Thread and My Name is Leon.) Hollis Woods was abandoned as an infant with a note saying “Call her Hollis Woods.” She has an incredible artistic gift that allows her to see beyond what is visible to the eye. Everyone who sees her work recognizes the genius behind it, but to Hollis, it’s just a mode of communication that allows her to maintain an icy distance from those she encounters, while at the same time, expressing her inner thoughts and feelings, however hidden they are in her imagery. Her art is a release. When adults connect with Hollis through her art, her guard lowers, and there arises an opportunity for genuine human interaction. Whether or not she can submit to these moments is the struggle she faces in this book. Through straightforward, unsentimental storytelling, Patricia Giff introduces the reader to a variety of memorable characters, some of whom make the leap to true connection with this singular, gifted and lonely girl.
Hollis prides herself on being “a mountain of trouble,” which is kind of ironic since a mountain causes her a lot of trouble later in the story. When she is sent to Branches on the East Branch of the Delaware River to spend the summer with the Regan family, something softens within her, and she begins to want again. Izzy Regan, the mother, is nurturing and fun, and the father, whom Hollis calls “Old Man,” sees beauty in her that she didn’t know was there. Steven, two years her senior, is a worthy companion and playmate. They all welcome her into their family. But how boring would the story be if it was all just happily ever after?
I make it a point to never include spoilers in my blog posts, so some of you may think that I’m cheating in this section of the blog. But I’m going to do this anyway, because of the way it made me feel when I read them. The beauty in Pictures of Hollis Woods is the last two words of the book. If you’re going to actually read the book (you can easily do it in one sitting-164 pages), do yourself a favor and don’t go to the last page to read them before you’ve read the rest of the book. Their impact only works in the context of the story.
Hollis first meets Steven and his father, “Old Man,” at the bus depot. Hollis is parched from traveling all morning with no liquid refreshment. Steven announces that they are going to have lunch at the diner, and also says that his mom stayed in Branches baking a carrot cake. Holly was going to say, “I hate carrots,” but caught herself. Seeing how pleased the two of them were with the prospect of lunch at the diner and carrot cake for dinner, she didn’t have the heart to burst their bubble with her negativity, and besides, she really had to use the bathroom.
Izzy’s Carrot Cake*
Yields: one standard loaf pan (9×5-inch)
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¾-1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ cup granulated sugar
½ C light or dark brown sugar
2 large eggs
½ C plus 1 T canola oil (or vegetable, safflower)
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1½ C (about 2 large or 3 medium carrots, grated)
½ C pecans or walnuts, roughly chopped (optional)
Preheat oven to 350º. Butter a 9×5-inch loaf pan.
In a large bowl sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and
cinnamon. Set aside.
In a mixer bowl fitted with paddle attachment, beat together eggs,
granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and
fluffy, about 2 minutes. On low speed and with the mixer running, add the
oil slowly and beat until combined. Beat in vanilla extract until combined,
then turn off mixer. Fold in carrots by hand until combined. Fold in dry
ingredients just until combined. Don’t overmix. Fold in nuts.
Pour the batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake for 40-50 minutes or until a
toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow cake
to cool completely.
*I can’t say for sure that this was Izzy’s carrot cake recipe, but if hers was delicious, as I’m sure it was, then it could have been this one. Even my carrot cake averse husband loves it!