Ten-year-old Lily Sinclair is a bored latchkey kid, an ardent fan of decaf coffee, shoes, and anything to do with lizards. (She has a pet gecko, Weemis.) When her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Hiller, introduces her to the owner of the nearby Pet Palace and his adult son Nate, who has Down’s syndrome, Lily finds herself with an unofficial after-school job. She forges a tentative friendship with Nate, but their bond is threatened by a dark secret that will change everything. Boasting a fresh, original voice, Willowood is a touching testament to the importance of friendship.
Galante (The Patron Saint of Butterflies) writes a heartfelt story of friendship and change. When Lily's single-parent mother gets a new job, the fifth-grader isn't happy about moving to a bigger city ( Their lives had been so perfect back home in Glenview, where everything was quiet and green ). Lily sorely misses her best friend, Bailey, and their secret place under a willow tree. With her mother working long hours and Bailey too busy to talk on the phone, Lily's closest confidante might be Weemis, her pet gecko. Although some people her babysitter, Mrs. Hiller; Gina, the class nerd; and a pet shop owner who offers Lily a part-time job make kind overtures, Lily doesn't recognize the value of their friendships until actions she takes result in hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Galante has a knack for small details (like Lily contemplating that neither she nor her mother know how to braid hair) and fully formed characters that make the story inviting and authentic. Lily emerges as a likable, realistically flawed heroine; her courage and integrity, illustrated in her determination to make things right, will win readers' respect. Ages 9 13.