Sunday, January 27, 2019

Review - Pilu of the Woods

Pilu of the Woods
by Mai K. Nguyen
Date: 2019
Publisher: Oni Press
Reading level: MG
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 160
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

A heartwarming story of friendship, loss, and finding your way home from debut author/illustrator Mai K. Nguyen!

Willow loves the woods near her house. They’re calm and quiet, so different from her own turbulent emotions, which she keeps locked away. When her emotions get the better of her one day, she decides to run away into the woods.

There, she meets Pilu, a lost tree spirit who can’t find her way back home—which turns out to be the magnolia grove Willow’s mom used to take her to. Willow offers to help Pilu, and the two quickly become friends.

But the journey is long, and Pilu isn’t sure she’s ready to return home yet—which infuriates Willow, who’s determined to make up for her own mistakes by getting Pilu back safely. As a storm rages and Willow’s emotions bubble to the surface, they suddenly take on a physical form, putting both girls in danger… and forcing Willow to confront her inner feelings once and for all.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I really didn't like this one at all. The drawings weren't my thing, the story was both depressing and confusing, and the book was riddled with typos and odd style choices.

Pilu of the Woods, despite the title and the cover illustration, is actually about a girl named Willow who lives with her father and older sister, Linnea. She had a mother once, but she's dead now, and Willow is always getting in trouble because she doesn't know how to deal with her feelings. She bottles them up (literally) until she just has to let them out in a fit of anger and/or violence. This part of the book had me confused at first, because there are these drawings of little creatures in bottles throughout the panels, and I wasn't sure what that was about for the longest time. The bit about the mother is also confusing, because it almost seems like her death is what caused Willow to become the way she is. But that's not the case, because her mother tells her (before she dies) to always treat others with kindness and compassion, and even makes Willow promise this. It seems like a weird promise to have your child make, unless you know you're about to die (but that's not the case; it's implied the mother died in a car accident on a rainy night). So Willow gets even more screwed up by her emotions because she's trying to keep this promise to her dead mother. She bottles up all her feelings until they come exploding out, taking actual physical form in the woods and threatening her and her new friend, Pilu.

Despite her name being in the title, I actually think Pilu is kind of unnecessary. Aside from agreeing with Willow about how tough feelings can be, she doesn't really add much to the story or offer any interesting insights or revelations. I guess she's almost like a Manic Pixie Dream Girl in that respect, since her problems are only there so that Willow can come to her own realizations and solve her own problems. She's some sort of nature sprite who runs away from her magnolia grove because she feels ignored. But it's actually Willow who knows more about the woods, and teaches Pilu a few things about it. (Some of those bits were the most interesting parts of the book; I wish there had been a little bit more of that and a lot less of the girls trudging through the woods in silence.)

That last point brings me to one of the most annoying things about this book, and that's how it's all put together. Aside from many typos and annoying onomatopoeia that uses repetition of silent letters (I can't stand it when people write that something is "cuttteee!", so I really wasn't pleased to see things like "RRUSSSTTTLLEEE" in the panels), the drawings are littered with near-empty speech bubbles with nothing but ellipses to show when the characters are being silent. Call me crazy, but wouldn't not having them say anything show the same thing just as well with less clutter? Also, the speech bubbles are all over the place. Sometimes they're smooth, sometimes they're jagged (which I think signified shouting), and sometimes they look like clouds... which seems odd, because I usually think of cloud shapes as thought bubbles, while here they're used for actual speech... for no real reason that I could see.

I don't like the drawings here, either. They're too cutesy, and the author seems to like drawing tears and snot just a little too much (there's a panel near the beginning of the book that has Willow snorting back a slurpy booger that just about made me gag). One scene also has Willow sharing a peanut butter sandwich with her brand-new friend, which I thought was kind of irresponsible; teaching kids to share peanut butter with someone of unknown allergy status is not the best idea.

Overall, I'm disappointed. The story's premise is okay, but there's far too much crying going on and not enough about actually dealing with negative feelings. (Willow eventually comes to realize that she has to acknowledge those feelings and not keep them bottled up, but it's not really shown how she's going to do that.) And with so many typos and weird style choices for the format, it's not one of the stronger graphic novels I've read.

Thank you to NetGalley and Oni Press for providing a digital ARC.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 1/5
Illustration: 2/5
Originality: 2/5

Enjoyment: 1/5

Overall Rating: 1.63 out of 5 ladybugs

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