From School Library Journal
Grade 5–8—When a diamond willow's bark is removed, sanded, and polished, it reveals reddish brown diamonds, the dark center of which are the scars of missing branches. Frost has used this image to craft an intricate family story in diamond-shaped verse. In her small Alaskan town, 12-year-old Diamond Willow, named for the tree, prefers to be just "Willow" but muses that if her parents had called her "Diamond," "…would I have been one of those sparkly kinds of girls?" Instead she describes herself as an average, part-Athabascan girl with one good friend, who finds herself more comfortable around her family's sled dogs than with people. Her story takes a heartrending turn on a solo dogsled trip to visit her grandparents, and Willow is soon caught up in an intense adventure that leads to the discovery of a family secret. As she unravels the truth, Willow comes to understand the diamonds and scars that bind her family together. She also gains awareness of her own strength and place in her community. Willow relates her story in one-page poems, each of which contains a hidden message printed in darker type. At key intervals, the narrative is continued in the voices of her ancestors, who take the form of animal spirits—Red Fox, Spruce Hen, Mouse, Chickadee, Lynx—and her sled dogs. Frost casts a subtle spell through innovative storytelling. Her poems offer pensive imagery and glimpses of character, and strong emotion. This complex and elegant novel will resonate with readers who savor powerful drama and multifaceted characters.—Marilyn Taniguchi, Beverly Hills Public Library, CA
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Set in a remote part of Alaska, this story in easy-to-read verse blends exciting survival adventure with a contemporary girl’s discovery of family roots and secrets. Middle-schooler Willow’s dad is Anglo, and her mother is Athabascan. The girl longs to spend more time with her traditional Indian grandparents even though she knows she will miss computers and other things that are a part of her life. When her beloved dog, Roxy, is blinded in an accident (partly Willow’s fault), and her parents want to put the dog down, Willow tries to take Roxy to Grandma and Grandpa. The two are caught in a raging blizzard, and Willow is saved by the spirits of her ancestors, who live on in the wild animals around her. Frost, who spent years teaching in Alaska, blends the young teen’s viewpoint with a strong sense of place and culture. The casual diamond shape of the poems reflects how precious jewels of wisdom can grow around painful scars. Willow’s bond with Roxy is the heart of the tale. Give this to fans of dog stories and to readers who liked Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet (1987). Grades 6-9. --Hazel Rochman
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