Lily Alone

Lily Alone by J. Wilson

Wilson, Jacqueline. Lily Alone. London: Doubleday, 2011. Print.

Lily often retreats into escapist reveries as a reprieve from the anxiety and responsibility of negotiating life with her unreliable mother. The novel’s title is not a reference to Lily’s mother’s decision to leave for vacation without securing a caregiver for eleven year old Lily and her three younger siblings. “Lily alone” is a phrase that articulates the solitude that Lily imagines for her future self – a retreat from the untenable demands of being the most stable and present person in the lives of her little brother and sisters. Wilson develops constant peaks of tension and suspense in her attention to how, for children alone, mundane situations can be threatening, thrilling and nearly insurmountable. Her vivid and unsentimental depiction of the sanity-eroding realities for caring for young children is a poignant contrast to Lily’s vulnerability and nascent grasp of the four children’s predicament. Adult readers, particularly parents, may find the textual realism, in contrast with the naiveté of the narrative perspective, induces stomach-churning apprehension. Lily is articulate, determined and canny and young adult readers will respond to the excitement inherent in the challenges Lily faces as she moves through the world with her siblings. Wilson’s depiction of the temperaments and limitations of all four children is pragmatic but nuanced. The unrelentingly obnoxious behaviour of Lily’s six year old brother runs concurrent to an implicit empathy for this robust, little lost boy and for the pitiable dilemma faced by each of the children. How are they to understand a world filled with compromised adult role models? Where does their intense need to be cared for, acknowledged and valued come to rest when the objects of their love and loyalty are so unmatched to the challenge of providing care? Wilson doesn’t patronize her audience with emotionally reassuring or reductionist answers. Lily Alone is a carefully considered and realistic urban adventure that unflinchingly considers issues of personal responsibility and social justice without compromising its compelling pacing and characterization.

Recommended: 3 out of 4 stars
Reviewer: Matilda Roche

Matilda spends her days lavishing attention on the University of Alberta’s metadata but children’s illustrated books, literature for young adults and graphic novels also make her heart sing. Her reviews benefit from the critical influence of a four year old daughter and a one year old son – both geniuses. Matilda’s super power is the ability to read comic books aloud.