Pictures of Hollis Woods, by Patricia Reilly Giff. Read by Hope Davis.
Print book published by Wendy Lamb Books, 2002
Audiobook published by Listening Library, 2002
Source: Library (Overdrive)
Hollis Woods has spent her 12 years in a long string of foster homes, and can't every seem to get it right. She runs away from all of them after a while, even from the one home where she really wants to stay. Now she's been put with Josie, a retired art teacher who's beginning to forget things. For the first time, Hollis starts to think about what someone else needs, and tries to figure out how to make it happen.
I really enjoyed this quick read (even on audio books, it took only 3 1/4 hours, and I listened to the whole thing in one day, while doing my Saturday chores). Hollis narrates her own story, and her voice is a mixture of defiant, self-absorbed, disheartened, and loving which I found authentic. Her one carefully guarded wish is for a family, but her own sense of undeserving keeps her from grasping it when it's in reach. It takes the time with Josie and her cousin Beatrice to teach Hollis a few important things: that she is talented (Hollis is an artist; thus the "pictures" of the title), that she is worth loving, and that she can love others.
To me the book had a feel of historical fiction, as though set perhaps 20 or 30 years back, but I'm not sure that's the case. Maybe that just springs from a wish that the foster system might be less broken now than it was for Hollis.
To an adult, the ending feels a little too tidy and happy to be realistic, but I think it's perfect for middle grade (and, frankly, I am a sucker for a happy ending, so I'm not really complaining). The writing is polished and language well-chosen. There was one glitch in the recording, which seems to be actually in the Overdrive file, as I downloaded it from two different library sites (which I realize come from the same central Overdrive source) and had the same problem at the same spot. So I did miss a bit from the start of Chapter 17, but was largely able to fill it in, and in any case that is no fault of the book or the author.
One other note, in light of my recent discussions of middle grade books about kids without adults: this book is an "orphan book," of the variety where the orphan finds a family. But the book is about the journey to that family, and during that time Hollis is more often in contention with the adults around her than relying on them. Her distrust is completely natural and realistically developed and portrayed, including the ways in which her efforts to figure it all out for herself lead her astray. I think that Giff has managed both to use the orphan motif to give her lead child character autonomy and to show her and the reader why it might have been better to talk to the adults, though clearly not to all the adults.
Wholly suitable for kids from about 3rd grade up. There is no violence to speak of, and no sexual situations. The language seems accessible to younger readers. The message of the book seems positive.
Full Disclosure: I checked Pictures of Hollis Woods out of the digital library and received nothing whatsoever from the author, publisher, or narrator in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed in this review are my own and no one else's.