Pilu of the Woods by Mai K. Nguyen – Review by Victoria Tomis
A lot of them.
In Mai Nguyen’s debut graphic novel Pilu of the Woods the androgynous and bespectacled “Will” is of the precocious child achetype–she has an affinity for recognizing even obscure plants, and has facts about just about any of the flora out of there in the lush forest beyond her cozy white cottage. After suffering a terrible loss, the woods are one of the few places that Will isn’t smothered by grief and shame. The woods have a peace about them that is powerful enough to curb the stormy swells of emotions that rage throughout her.
Despite her youth, Will has a keen awareness of the world … just not always the tools and support she needs to cope with it. Her big sister Linnea doesn’t get her, her University Professor father is constantly working, and Willow’s only true friend, and partner in exploring the woods, is her cream-colored Shiba Inu, Chicory. One afternoon after a fight at school turns into another fight at home with Linnea, Will flees into the forest.
It’s there, past babbling brooks and ancient oaks that Will encounters a weeping little girl tucked into hollow tree. A freckle-faced, pink-cheeked little girl with long green, leafy hair, and a frilly little white frock. A lost tree spirit named Pilu. Striking up a cautious friendship, Will convinces Pilu to let her help her find her way home, a magical Magnolia grove with a unique connection to Will’s past.
Pilu of the Woods’s pages are filled with Nguyen’s charming and folksy illustrations, art that’s heartwarming and soul soothing from cover to cover. There’s great wonder to be found in nature, and in her depiction of Will and Pilu’s adventures through the sun dappled, lushly green and toasty brown woodlands Nguyen masterfully captures and honors that nature.
Heartfelt and imaginative Pilu of the Woods is a glimpse into a young girl’s experience with grief and loss, and the healing power of friendship and forgiveness. Along with Nguyen’s remarkable art, tight, concise storytelling, and great respect for her readers, Pilu of the Woods is a conversation sparking all-ages graphic novel worth reading, re-reading, and sharing. Willow’s monsters aren’t what you may expect…Nguyen asks us to consider that, perhaps, the most monstrous things of all are self-loathing, regret and shame. Nguyen tactfully tackles these topics for even the youngest of readers with enough style and substance to entertain teen and adult readers alike.
Victoria Tomis is a twenty-something kitty cat kissing, veggie eating, queer writer. Currently the Head Writer for the pop culture website GeekForTheWin.com, Victoria also runs her own blog vickyheartstv.blogspot.com, writes for the movie review website ThatMomentIn.com and has a gig at her town’s library where she works in the circulation department. When she’s not writing, reading, or out with friends, you could find her geeking out over Harry Potter, hiking, or cooing over her rescue tabby, Paco. Want to know more? You can find Victoria on twitter at @thebadgerbabe_