July 23, 2012
GENRE: Loosely Fictional Biography
HONORS: None yet, though it has received a number of very positive reviews.
REVIEW: One day, a girl named Vanessa notices that her sister, Virginia, has begun to behave "wolfishly". She howls and sends people away, isolating herself in her bed while the household turns upside-down. Rather than be chased off by her sister's terrible, dark mood, Vanessa embraces her and engages her, painting her walls with flowers and enchanted objects so that she might create an enchanted place called "Bloomsberry" for the unhappy Virginia. Thanks to Vanessa's stalwart love, Virginia emerges from her wolfish mood and rejoins her sister in the light. Virginia Wolf is a subtle, delicately crafted book. It draws just enough from the lives of Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf to be undeniable biographical, while never explicitly bringing up the topics of depression or Woolf's eventual suicide. Instead, it is a story of sisterly love and support, and how it helps the wolfish Virginia emerge from her dark place. Aresnault's delicate, watercolor illustrations mirror the subtlety and depth of Maclear's prose, making Virginia Wolf an effective, yet unthreatening meditation on "the doldrums" and the isolation that can result.
OPINION: Though simple on the surface, Virginia Wolf is a book with deep emotional resonance. Because Maclear's hand is so light, it is a perfect book for young people not yet ready to deal with the dark, potentially alienating topic of depression or sadness in a direct manner. Instead, Maclear allows the topic to perfume the air while focusing on the support that helps Virginia transcend her doldrums. A beautiful, sensitive book with sophisticated underpinnings and gorgeous illustrations, it is truly a picture book for older readers.
IDEAS: Beautiful in it's own right, Virginia Wolf is a strong suggestion for young people interested in stories about the bond between sisters, as well as for those dealing with sadness, grief, depression or even just a series of bad moods or bad days. These themes are touched on lightly, but it is this gentle treatment which allows individual readers to glean what they need from the text and illustrations.
*For a lovely short essay by the author on writing a children's book based on a famous depressive and her sister, see the following: http://kyomaclearkids.com/virginia-wolf/extras/whos-afraid-of-virginia-woolf/