Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen
Genre: Fantasy | Middle Grade | Graphic Novel
Length: 160 pages
Published on 7th April 2019 by Oni Press
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Mai K. Nguyen: Website | Twitter | Goodreads
Received for free from publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review
Synopsis: 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.
I screamed with happiness when I saw that Pilu of the Woods had finally been listed on NetGalley.
& for all the wrong reasons.
Well, a lot of right reasons but one big wrong one.
Pillu is a very naughty word in Finnish and its one of the few words my FinFriends have taught me. So even though I knew this middle grade graphic novel would not be one of a naughty nature I still knew I needed to read it.
The right reasons for reading it were the art, the dog, and the leaves!
Yes as always here I go judging a graphic novel by its cover. Fight me. It usually works well.
It did this time too – spoilers: I rated it 5 stars.
This story follows Willow and Chicory the dog as they stomp off into the woods after a disagreement with their sister. Whilst simmering away in their negative feelings they hear someone else crying.
Luckily Chico is very good at breaking the ice and helping Willow and Pilu to become friends.
Pilu is sad after a fall out with her mother, and family, too and ended up getting lost in the woods.
Luckily Willow loves the woods and knows where Pilu lives – thanks to exploring them a lot with her mother. She also loves Pilu’s hair! That has leaves!
Guiding Pilu through the woods the two discuss their sad feelings and figuring out the best way to approach and deal with them.
Willow personifies and bottles up her “monsters” (bad feelings) causing them to engulf her and altering how she handles tough situations.
Her description (and visualisation) of negative feelings is very handy for the readers this story is aimed at, but also for older readers. It makes us reconnect with our feelings and be aware that bottling up bad things isn’t healthy or handy for us. The bottle is likely to get too full and burst! Englufing our lives and making things difficult.
Pilu is super helpful in guiding Willow on how she could approach her monsters better, learn to live with and listen to them, as what she is currently doing isn’t working.
As Pilu gets closer to home she has doubts about returning, concerned that her family might not even care she’s gone given her family is so large.
But Willow is able to share some sound advice to her which she’s learnt from her wise Mother. Willow reflecting on Pilu and her family also makes her come to terms with being a better sister.
Working together the three really help cheer each other up, come to terms with their mistakes, and become good friends.
I’d love to see the two in another story as I could definitely see these three (hi I didn’t forget the lovely Chico) becoming part of a series for young readers and tackling real life issues in realistic ways with a little bit of magic.
Below is how Willow visualises her little monsters:
This is a graphic novel that I truly adored and love to own and reread whenever I’m down as a nice reminder to tackle my little monsters when I have the strength.
I also think the art talks for itself – its beautiful! Very approachable for its target audience.
content warning for grief, parents death, and bullying.