Pictures of Hollis Woods

by Patricia Reilly Giff

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Hollis Woods, the eleven-year-old protagonist of the novel, is a pretty child with large eyes, a small nose, and sandy hair and who has established a reputation for being tough and "a mountain of trouble." Abandoned at birth, she has never known the love of a parent or a family of her own, and years in the impersonal and impermanent system of foster care have taught her to be protective of her thoughts and feelings. Hollis avoids eye contact with people because she doesn't "want anyone to see into (her) soul," and she ditches school and runs away from places. She can also have a sharp tongue, and Steven, recognizing her fiercely self-protective nature, calls her "prickly . . . like holly." Hollis has a great gift for drawing, however, and "as long as (she has) a pencil and paper, (she will) get along."

Despite the emotional deprivation she has endured, Hollis retains an amazing capacity to love. She recognizes immediately that "Steven is a great kid," and worries that her presence in the Regan family is causing the Old Man to think less of his son. When Beatrice asks her to watch over Josie in her absence, Hollis does not hesitate to take on the monumental task of caring for an Alzheimer's victim, fearing only that she will be taken away if her social worker finds out. When Hollis hurts her ankle on the Old Man's mountain and can barely walk, she somehow finds the strength to go and get help because she knows Steven's life hangs in the balance. Hollis's own lack of experience causes her to misjudge relational situations, but when she errs, she blames herself. The extent of her resolve to sacrifice herself before hurting others is shown when, in a heartrending scene, she adamantly refuses to go back to the Regans despite the Old Man's pleas, even though she wants more than anything to do just that. Having never been cherished, Hollis believes she is unworthy of being loved. When Josie gives her the tree branch carving she has made in her likeness, Hollis at first thinks it is "not really me." The figure looks good and kind, "anxious to be loved," and Hollis feels she is none of these things. Her tough, untouchable facade finally begins to crumble when Josie says, "I wish you could see yourself the way I see you."

As an artist, Hollis is able to recreate the scenes around her with such accuracy that she captures details and emotions that she does not even realize she is seeing. It is by going back and studying her own drawings that Hollis finally understands that her presence cannot take away the love the Old Man has for Steven. Art is the vehicle by which Hollis learns about her world.

Steven Regan

Steven Regan is a good-natured, outspoken thirteen-year-old. Hollis describes him as "a skinny mess," tall, with his socks always falling down and glasses over eyes "the color of caramel." Steven loves to fish and tinker with engines, and his forgetfulness and tendency to be "a slob" places him at constant odds with his father. The quintessential big brother, Steven loves to tease and especially enjoys badgering Hollis, but beneath his banter, he, like Hollis, has a great capacity to love. When Hollis dares to show Steven the W picture of a family that she made when she was six, he understands that it represents what Hollis wants and wishes for. It is Steven who knows instinctively that Hollis will go to the summer house at Branches when things go badly at Josie's place, and he watches over her, bringing her supplies and keeping the secret of her whereabouts because...

(This entire section contains 1008 words.)

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he senses that what she needs most is time. Steven's main flaw is his propensity to take chances, a characteristic that ultimately leads to disaster when he takes the truck up the mountain and is unable to safely navigate the road coming down. Though his intentions are good and he takes responsibility for his mistakes, there is no doubt that he can be rash to the point of being dangerous. There is evidence, however, that Steven learns something from the terrible accident; Hollis notices when she first sees him again that his face is "thinner . . . something about his eyes seem(s) older."

Josie Cahill

Josie Cahill, who wears dresses made of "filmy stuff" and hats with gauzy veils, is "movie-star beautiful." Her character, like her appearance, is ethereal. Although when Hollis looks closely she can see the "dozens of tiny crisscross lines" on her face, Josie's demeanor is childlike and full of wonder. Tree branches carved intricately into the likenesses of people adorn the area in her backyard around the woods, testimony to her gift as a sculptor. Josie loves "adventures" and her house by the Atlantic Ocean. Her quirkiness and blithe spirit conceal the fact that she is rapidly losing her ability to remember. Even as her memory fades, however, Josie can still recognize beauty and goodness of spirit. She is instrumental in helping Hollis see in herself those qualities in abundance.

Josie's descent into dementia is quiet but inexorable, and it is more clearly evident when she is out of the familiar environs of her home. When Hollis comes to live with her in October, she takes charge of things, welcoming Hollis without imposing conditions, and planning outings to the movies and to the sea. Hollis quickly realizes, however, that "Josie for(gets) things . . . not all the time, but still too often," and, poignantly, she knows that Josie realizes it too. By December, at the house in Branches, Josie is lost and bewildered, following Hollis's lead unquestioningly. A year and a half later, when Hollis comes back to visit, she knows that Josie "doesn't remember exactly who (Hollis is) anymore" but that she loves her still.




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