For fans of What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell and The Futures by Anna Pitonia, a soul-piercing debut that explores the ways that past and present intertwine, queerness, and coming of age in uncertain times.
In WILLA & HESPER, two young women fall in love. When they fall apart, they unwittingly take the same path to heal from their breakup, seeking answers in the lands of their ancestors. From Tbilisi, Georgia to the war sites of Germany, they discover what can break and what can mend when you look to the past to understand your present.
Willa's darkness enters Hesper's light late one night in Brooklyn. Theirs is a whirlwind romance until Willa starts to know Hesper too well, to crawl into her hidden spaces, and Hesper shuts her out. She runs, following her fractured family back to her grandfather's hometown of Tbilisi, Georgia, looking for the origin story that he is no longer able to tell. But once in Tbilisi, cracks appear in her grandfather's history-and a massive flood is heading toward Georgia, threatening any hope for repair.
Meanwhile, heartbroken Willa is desperate to leave New York that she joins a group trip for Jewish twentysomethings to visit Holocaust sites in Germany and Poland, hoping to override her emotional state. When it proves to be more fraught than home, she must come to terms with her past-the ancestral past, her romantic past, and the past that can lead her forward.
Told from alternating perspectives, and ending in the shadow of Trump's presidency, WILLA & HESPER is a deeply moving, cerebral, and timely debut.
Willa feels everything right down to the marrow of her bones. Emotions – both euphoric and savage – always seem to be amplified behind her dark eyes.
She could have never guessed that one night stained with memories of bruising hands and strawberry blonde hair under fluorescent diner lights would change the trajectory of her life forever.
“Come here,” she said. And then, I didn’t realize we were kissing until we were. It was a kiss that spread wide inside of me, an eagle’s wingspan. Her hand reached for the top of my spine and stayed there, the lightest possible contact, and I felt it traipse all the way down the length of my back. Her lips were even softer than I’d imagined. I found the rhythm of her kissing: furtive, but constant, a surge of wanting. She tasted like the orange juice. Our mouths matched, I thought.
Hesper feels like she's struggling. Struggling to find out who she really is, where she comes from and who she thinks she should be. At just twenty-three, the answer seems so very far away. Until Willa.
Willa is her defender and tethers her to reality.
But after months together, every time she looks into Willa’s eyes, she feels so completely weighed down. And all she wants to do is fly.
I didn’t see Willa in dazzling periwinkle. I never would. I didn’t know if it was because of Willa, herself—self-conscious, insecure Willa, itching for a person to need her, printing out her Google map and possible destinations even though her phone held all the information she could ever need—or because I was missing the gene that let me need, and love, in the way that she wanted.
Apart, they each embark on a journey through history. One will discover her inner strength and one will only find more questions. But the memory of the time when they loved each other will be etched on their souls forever.
“It’s because we’ve been lucky. Maybe it’s a blessing. Even if everything devolves now, and there are swastikas all over our synagogues and subways, I mean…we still had that. Right? We still had something. That’s more than a lot of other people have gotten. Like, a lot of other groups never got to live in the safety cocoon.”
While reading Willa & Hesper, I literally found myself on the verge of tears so many times. It could have been Amy’s gut-wrenchingly beautiful prose or how so many elements of this story reminded me of exactly how frightening the world really is.
From the passion of a once-in-a-lifetime love to the revelations of a young Jewish girl trying to find her place in the world after the 2016 US presidential election, I will never forget the way this changed me on an elemental level. And every time I catch a glimpse of its beautiful cover, I will remember it all over again…
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