Having (thankfully) not had the angst so typical between teenage girls and their mothers, I generally have little interest in reading coming-of-age books. There have been a few exceptions. For example, Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt, was one of the best books I read in 2013. (That reminds me; I should reread.)
I made an exception also for The Book of Polly, by Kathy Hepinstall, quite simply (I’m somewhat embarrassed to say) because of its title. How can that title not intrigue a reader? The book was wonderful, even beyond its title.
When the book begins, Willow is 10 years old. Her mother, Polly, gave birth to her when she was in her late 50s – a miracle birth of sorts. Willow’s father died while Polly was pregnant, so she never knew him. But with an older mother and no father, Willow lives in fear that her mother will die and leave her all alone.
As for Polly, she is a feisty southern woman who lives for gardening, her margaritas, and her daughter. Despite her love for Willow, she is tough as nails, recognizing that she has to prepare her for a world without her in it for much of Willow’s life.
Willow’s fear of losing her mother leads to her beginning to search for clues about her mother’s past, a search that takes several years. Polly has no interest in sharing her secrets with her daughter, leaving Willow to wonder why her mother left her small town in Louisiana and why she refuses to talk about it. It isn’t until tragedy strikes that she agrees to take Willow back to her home town.
The Book of Polly is sad in parts, and laugh-out-loud in other parts. Its characters are likeable and mostly believable, if somewhat bigger than life. Polly quickly became one of my favorite book characters in recent memory.
The ending was satisfying, something that can make or break a book for this reader.
Treat yourself to this poignant story of love.