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...

(The entire section is 974 words.)