This book came out on top for the IRL book club’s July read. It was a close race between Love & Gelato, and so I checked both books out at the same time.
The reader meets young Willow Havens and her mother Polly. Willow is terrified that her mother will die, being that she had Willow so late in her life. Her father passed away just before Willow made it into the world, and her siblings have grown and moved out of the house, and Willow doesn’t want to be alone. Polly, however, has a lot of vigor left, and puts up a fight to raise her daughter (and her garden) right. She’s nothing like other moms, and Willow loves to tell anyone who will listen about her eccentric southern mother- especially about Polly’s abhorred feelings for squirrels. Yet Willow can’t suppress her concern for her aging mother, nor her curiosity about Polly’s life before Willow.
But as Willow hits her teen years, her worst nightmare occurs: a bear (aka cancer) attacks Polly. At first, it recedes, but then quickly came back with a vengeance. This leads Willow on a goose chase to find out about her mother’s past life before she slips out of her present one.
I read The Book of Polly relatively quickly, but it took me a long time to get into it. Overall, it’s an interesting concept, but I really struggled to like this novel. It’s premise of a mother and daughter duo who handle her mother’s cancer and past simultaneously sounded really intriguing, but for me, the writing just doesn’t do the synopsis justice. I grappled with Hepinstall’s method of pushing along the plot, and Willow’s character development seemed a little disjointed to me. For example, at age 14, Willow is still maintaining a normal relationship with her mother and concerned about her health when she finds out about the “bear”.
“Was death that easy? And when would it take her away from me?”
The very next page, Willow starts to explain how she outgrew her mother, and wanted to leave her behind like her siblings did- and how moody a teen she was- but still, the reader is introduced to this sweet, clever kid who genuinely cared about her (now sick) mom and admired her vitality to all of a sudden a character rebelling against her. It would be one thing if there was more meat here, where the reader could understand the stress of a young teen woman caring for her aging mother and the difficulties they could experience, but it just glazes right over that potential conflict, skipping a year forward and diving into this unseen tension. It just felt very disconnected from chapter to chapter, and this part of the book was the tipping point for me. Other smaller examples lay within the book which bothered me but I made excuses, hoping for more explanation as I read, but many times, going without.
I will say there were a few moments where I got generally interested in the story, and this line from Polly stuck with me in a heartwarming way:
“You can love two people at once, you know.”
But aside from those moments, I really couldn’t wait to finish reading this book, and had I not been reading it for the book club, I probably would have DNF’d it. I feel bad giving it a low rating on Goodreads and not recommending it, but when I look at the reviews, it seems like people that gave it the same rating as I did had the same problems with the book, so I’m not alone, and I don’t think it’s fair to hide my opinion. I recently talked to a woman on Twitter who, as an author, said that even a low score is better than no score (which I disagreed with at first, but I’m starting to understand her point.)
So, has anyone else read The Book of Polly? What did you think? What do you think about giving negative (constructive) reviews and ratings?