I’ve devoured several new and brilliant books in the last few weeks, but today I’m in the mood for a throwback.

The first time I read Patricia Reilly Giff’s Pictures of Hollis WoodsI was ten, maybe eleven? I read it again when I was fifteen or sixteen, then again when I was around nineteen.

Something I’ve noticed about books: when they’re all plot, I zoom through them and never think twice about revisiting them. But when the language is beautiful and the characters are familiar, I can read them over and over again without getting bored.

Hollis Woods is a page-turning example of beauty and familiarity. We meet a grandpa with “eyes the color of cinnamon toast,” a “Hollywood beautiful” wood-carver with advanced dementia, a mean “lemon-mouthed” foster mother, and of course, Hollis Woods, a little girl who inherited her name from the street corner where she was dumped as a baby.

In an excerpt from Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl, I shared my hypothesis that human quirks are the most incontrovertible evidence that we have souls. What gets me about Hollis Woods is that Patricia Reilly Giff has loaded not just her characters but also her setting with quirks; it feels as if the places she describes have souls.

Let’s take a peek into the lovely Josie Cahill’s house:

It was a terrific breakfast, with Rice Krispies crackling in a speckled bowl. Fall leaves swept across the garden, and Josie’s plane went across the wood with a swish swish sound.

I sat there with my mouth full, looking at her kitchen. It was like the rest of her house, filled with surprises. The walls were creamy yellow, and ships sailed along blue ocean molding. A painted pelican perched above the stove.

That yellow kitchen was huge. A couch sat under the window, piled high with embroidered pillows that said things like HENRY’S HOME, V FOR VICTORY, SAVE THE SARGASSO SEA.

I’d never even heard of the Sargasso Sea.

After reading Hollis Woods for the second time, I made myself a “Save the Sargasso Sea” pillow and put it on my couch to remind me to look for quirks and soul everywhere I go.

What do you think. Do souls exist? How do they manifest themselves? Can places have souls? If so, can a place be your soulmate?

3 thoughts on “Pictures of Hollis Woods: can places have souls?

  1. This is a fascinating idea. First, I think yes, places have souls. Where I lived in Mississippi had a soul. It was a lovely six acres that I owned with huge oaks and a pond where wood mallards thrived during the winter and spring. There were deer–tons of deer–usually in the field in front of my house. When I left that place to come to Alabama, I stopped at a Starbucks after a few hours driving and there on my ankle an oak leaf had curled itself around my sock. It was as if it had wanted me to stay…or perhaps knowing I couldn’t…then it would go with me to Alabama.

    When one stays in a place for a number of years I think one slowly moves into the pace of that land, the geography, the ancient soil, the feel of it pervades ones senses and indeed one’s soul. I think you are so right that when an author writes truly about a place be it a room in a house that overlooks a garden or a wooded area that the reader receives a glimpse of that soul. I do believe that.

    Great post. Thanks a ton!


    1. Thanks for your comment, Paul! I’m having a touch of separation anxiety at the moment (childhood home probably going on the market soon), so it’s comforting to hear that a new place can “pervade one’s senses and indeed one’s soul.”

      Not sure how long you have been in Alabama now, but I sure hope you’re enjoying it. I know that little oak leaf would have been a tearjerker for me.

      Liked by 1 person

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