Literary Criticism and Significance
Prolific Connecticut writer Patricia Reilly Giff's The Pictures of Hollis Woods was published in 2002 and was a well-deserved recipient of the Newbery Honor Book Award. In the narrative, Giff deftly weaves two story lines, alternating chapters that describe Hollis's present "Time with Josie" with her reminiscences about the past summer spent with the Regans. The chapters relating to the past are presented in italics, and throughout, the author communicates with aching tenderness and clarity the unceasing longing of her heroine to find a place to belong. In Hollis Woods, Giff has created a protagonist who is engaging, compassionate, and likable, all the more so because of her deeply ingrained conviction that she has none of these desirable attributes. As the events of the plot progress, Hollis, operating within the limits of her understanding of things as they really are, shows herself to be exceptionally resilient, resourceful, and kind, a character who will remain memorable in the canon of young adult literature.
The rendering of the book itself shows tremendous artistry, in keeping with one of its central focuses. Just as Hollis is an artist, the story is a work of art, and many of the details of the characters and events have their beginnings in concrete images that exist in Hollis's mind and imagination. As Hollis struggles to understand the things she has seen and replicated in her drawings, the reader is allowed to see their development too; the craftsmanship of the author works seamlessly in conjunction with that of the character she has created. The Pictures of Hollis Woods is notable both for its sensitive handling of pertinent subject matter and its presentation as a shining example of carefully nuanced, high-quality writing.
The Pictures of Hollis Woods was made into a full-length motion picture in 2007 by the Hallmark Hall of Fame. The movie version has been criticized for being unrealistic and unduly sanitized; one reviewer in particular pointed out Josie's poignant but uncharacteristically peaceful descent into dementia in the course of just a few weeks. Despite this observation, the reviewer is in accord with critics of the book in praising the story highly, admitting that, oddly, somehow, the offering works. In both the book and the movie, it is arguable that a bit of artistic license has been taken in adherence to factual detail in some areas, but this does not take away from from the value of the work as a whole. The Pictures of Hollis Woods is a remarkably sensitive and beautiful portrayal through which the author clearly communicates important realities about the nature of family and love and about the power of art.