Pictures of Hollis Woods
by Patricia Reilly Giff
From the back cover: Hollis Woods
is the place where a baby was abandoned
is the baby’s name
is an artist
is now a twelve-year-old girl who’s been in as many foster homes she can hardly remember them all. Hollis Woods is a mountain of trouble. She runs away even from the Regans, the one family who offers her a home.
When Hollis is sent to Josie, an elderly artist who is quirky and affectionate, she wants to stay. But Josie is growing more forgetful every day. If Social Services finds out, they’ll take Hollis away and move Josie into a home. Well, Hollis Woods won’t let anyone separate them. She’s escaped the system before; this time, she’s taking Josie with her.
Still, even as she plans her future with Josie, Hollis dreams of the past summer with the Regans, fixing each special moment of her days with them in pictures she’ll never forget.
Like Hollis, I sometimes want to run away. When faced with something uncomfortable, it’s easier to deny its existence and push it away. Facing, embracing, and struggling through it can feel like the end of everything we know. Here’s the thing about people, though: even when what we know is awful, and our situation isn’t working to our advantage, we don’t want to let it go. We’re afraid to risk reaching for something better, because what if the thing we end up with is even worse?
Hollis distances herself from her foster parents and the agency social workers out of self-preservation; she calls them not by name but by descriptors: the mustard woman, the stucco woman, the lemon lady…why get attached to someone who doesn’t want you, anyway? But the Regans and Josie are different; Hollis consistently refers to Josie and the Regans by name. There is Steven, his mom Izzy (Mrs. Regan), and Mr. Regan, affectionately dubbed “Old Man” by Hollis. You could argue that “Old Man” is a descriptor, just like “the mustard woman” but by dropping “the”, Hollis makes it a name.
It’s a sign she’s ready to risk opening her heart.
Emotional growth happens in fits and starts, though, so it’s not surprising that when Hollis and Steven make a huge mistake, Hollis reacts by running away again. After all, she’s convinced they couldn’t possibly want her once they find out how much trouble she really is. That’s been her whole life so far. But before she runs from the Regan’s, Steven tells her she doesn’t know anything about how families work. He’s not wrong, and Hollis knows it.
Steven’s comment sticks with Hollis, growing in the back corners of her mind as she tries to build a family with Josie. Her early understanding of his comment contributes to her decision to run away with Josie rather than let the agency find out about Josie’s failing memory—she’s trying to build a family and beginning to realize that families are worth the struggle.
Her memories of the summer spent with the Regans lead Hollis to make risky choices—choices that will surely force her to face her fears, because once she claims Josie as her responsibility, she can no longer run from other responsibilities. And like all of us—even those of us who grew up with families all along—Hollis discovers that families are more than the luck of the draw. Families are the people we gather to us and hold in our hearts, again and again, until we can’t imagine our days without them.