I picked up this book thinking it would have been just a cute fluffy read I would enjoy in the moment and then forget about it. But oh boy I was wrong! This middle grade graphic novel took me by surprise and made me oh so invested in all the characters. I was almost crying by the end!
Title: Pilu of the Woods
Author: Mai K. Nguyen
Genre: fantasy, middle grade, graphic novel
Published on April 17th, 2019 by Oni Press
Page count: 160 pages
🌼 s y n o p s i s 🌼
Willow loves the quiet woods near her house. They’re a good break from all the fights with her sister back home. When one day her turbulent emotions get the best of her, Willow runs away to the woods. There, she meets Pilu, a lost tree spirit struggling to get back home. The two girls band together to find Pilu’s home in the heart of the woods and quickly become friends.
🍃 The atmosphere of the book is so good
Everything about Pilu of the Woods makes me think of magic. It’s not only the fact that there’s a forest spirit in the plot, but also the illustrations and how time goes by in this world. All these elements come together to make the perfect atmosphere that goes perfectly with the plot and feel of the story.
🌼 The illustrations are drop-dead gorgeous!
The illustrations of Pilu of the Woods are. so. gorgeous! The overall palette is brown-ish, yellow-ish, which I think goes perfectly with the story. The characters are all drawn in a cute cartoon-ish way with big bright eyes and small hands. The nature is drawn in a lot of detail, too. There are even full pages dedicated just to the woods in which the novel develops. There are white magnolia flowers everywhere (which is secretly my dream for my future garden), including in Pilu’s hair! Ahhh, reading or even just flipping through these pages is so calming and awe-inspiring.
🍃 Willow is a really well-developed character
I actually wasn’t expecting this at all, but Willow is a really strong character. We see her at her lows after having run away from home and also at her highest when she is remembering scenes from her childhood with her mother. It was really moving to see this contrast and see Willow open up about what has been hurting her for so long.
Willow grows so much throughout the story. As a young girl who has just lost her mother (not a spoiler, I promise!), she has a lot of pent-up anger and frustration she doesn’t know how to release. This leads her to lash out at those who love her, which felt very realistic!
🌼 Great mental health representation!
Now, I’m not sure if the publisher and author are calling this aspect of the story “mental health representation,” but I think it is so fitting. During the story, Willow deals with a lot of negative thoughts that threaten to take over her day-to-day, putting her in a miserably sad state. Nguyen drew these bad thoughts in a perfect way: as gross little green animated pudges that creep at the corners of each vignette. I can’t think of a better way of putting these thoughts to paper!!!
I won’t spoil you about what happens, but Willow pulls through these thoughts in such a graceful and mature way! I love that the author decided to make this little girl struggle with these thoughts (after all, who doesn’t?!?!) only to see her grow up and deal with them in the best of ways.
There is only one more thing I’ll highlight about this, and that is a quote that we see throughout Pilu of the Woods:
🍃 Adorable family representation
The whole story starts out with Willow getting into a big argument with her elder sister. Their mother died recently, and Willow’s sister has to step into her shoes and play the mother figure. I loved seeing how this dynamic played out. Willow is obviously grieving (!!!) and struggling to adjust to a life in which her sister pretends to be her mother. It was so beautiful and moving to see!
I can’t say anything more without spoiling the entire plot, but trust me, this family relationship is definitely something to be on the lookout for. But beware! Your eyes may start to water like mine did ;-;