Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Book Review: Cowboy and Wills by Monica Holloway

Cowboy & Wills
Author: Monica Holloway
Date Published: October 6, 2009
Publisher: Simon Spotlight Entertainment
Pages: 288 pages
ISBN: 978-1416595038
Genre: Non-fiction Memoir
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary: The day Monica Holloway learns that her lovable, brilliant three-year-old son has autism spectrum disorder, she takes him to buy an aquarium. But what Wills really wants is a puppy, and from the moment Cowboy Carol Lawrence, an overeager and affectionate golden retriever, joins the family, Monica watches as her cautious son steps a little farther into the world.

With his new "sister" Cowboy by his side, Wills finds the courage to invite kids over for play dates, conquer his debilitating fear of water, and finally sleep in his own bed with the puppy's paws draped across his small chest. And when Cowboy turns out to need her new family as much as they need her, they discover just how much she has taught them about devotion, loyalty, and never giving up.

Sometimes it's what you don't know to hope for that saves you. For Monica and Wills, salvation came in the form of a puppy with pale blond fur, chocolate brown eyes, a fondness for chewing the crotch out of underpants, and a limitless capacity for love.

My Thoughts: Cowboy & Wills is Monica Holloway's heart-warming, poignant and funny story about her amazing son, Wills and his best friend, a golden retriever puppy named Cowboy Carol Lawrence (yes, that's the dog's "full name"!). Wills, diagnosed with autism before he is 2 years-old, is fortunate to have parents, particularly a mother, willing to do whatever it takes to help him including opening her home to a menagerie of pets. Wills has always responded to animals much better than people, but none quite like the golden retriever puppy who helps Wills conquer his anxieties, embrace the world around him and become a happy, popular young boy. Wills sees several therapists regularly and is assisted by an aide in school but nobody helps him through the days like Cowboy. Wills' connection with Cowboy is remarkable. She provides Wills with the safety and comfort he needs to calm his fears and learn to communicate. In a very short time, with Cowboy by his side and his parents' love and support, Wills becomes an independent, personable, and enthusiastic boy who, rather than cower and hide, welcomes new experiences and seeks out friendships.

Author Monica Holloway tells the story about learning her small son is autistic and the extent she and her husband go: physically, mentally, emotionally and financially to get Wills the help he needs with honesty and a refreshing openness. Holloway doesn't pull any punches when relating the range of emotions she experiences watching her son deal with the social anxieties and fears that assail him daily. She shares what a confusing, overwhelming situation it can be because Wills is extremely bright in many areas but can only communicate with a very small number of people. Holloway displays a remarkable energy and drive to get Wills any available help that will provide him the tools he needs to be able to interact with children his age.

Holloway obviously adores her son and writes graphically about the extremes Wills experiences. There are difficult episodes, such as Will experiencing extreme sensory overload during a birthday party causing him to run screaming from the house. But then there are inspiring instances: while driving home from the same birthday party, Wills exclaims "That was a fun party!".

Wills, despite his anxiety, shows a desire to be a part of activities. During Wills' first year of preschool there is a sing-along in the park. This is essentially a nightmare for Wills but Holloway takes him because isolating him is not the answer. Wills starts out screaming and refuses to let go of Holloway but as the sing-along progresses, Wills stops covering his ears and he starts humming the songs! Holloway writes that Wills often surprises them behaving in unexpected ways, fighting against the fears and anxieties that threaten to overwhelm him. But nothing prepares Holloway and her husband for the impact a small golden retriever puppy will have.

Wills has always responded well to animals and Holloway makes a habit of visiting the pet store if her son has a difficult day or a doctor's visit is disappointing. In a few years their family has included several hermit crabs, turtles, many different fish, three jumping frogs, a number of hamsters and a large rabbit named Ruby. But Wills has wanted a puppy for quite a while. Specifically, a golden retriever puppy. Cowboy Carol Lawrence, as named by Wills, joins the family on December 21st in Wills sixth year .

Monica, Michael and Wills are in love. Understandably as Cowboy is adorable, full of energy, and chewing anything in sight! In only a matter of days Wills begins to assert himself like never before. For example, on the first day back at school after Christmas, , Wills teacher asks if anyone has anything they'd like to share. He is the first to volunteer. Wills, never having participated in any kind of sharing with the class before now, has a picture of Cowboy in his hand and shows it to each classmate and then tells all about Cowboy.

Cowboy helps usher in many new experiences for Wills, one of the most significant being friendships with other children. With Cowboy the center of attention the focus is off Wills allowing him to ease into a situation and become comfortable with it. Holloway writes with joyful amazement at the many changes in Wills with Cowboy in his life.

I like Holloway very much. She is a kind, funny and personable woman and a terrific. loving mother. She is also quite an animal lover! Her writing is insightful, engaging and filled with heart-wrenching and humorous anecdotes. She can be very self-deprecating at times and suffers a lot of guilt for Wills autism because of her OCD behavior. It's obvious that there is no limit to the love she has for her son which comes through on every page. Holloway makes it clear in Cowboy & Wills that there's no end to the lengths she will go to open doors for Wills and help him cope with his anxieties and fears. I wish every child was fortunate enough to have a parent like Monica Holloway. Holloway has written a very inspiring story about a mother's love for her son and the healing that can come from a relationship with a beloved pet.

I recommend this book for any family coping with autism and any person involved in treating individuals with autism. But this is also a book that would be enjoyed by anyone who loves animals and understands the transforming power of loving one. I will caution anybody who reads this book that there are some very difficult and emotional chapters towards the end of the book but also hopeful and inspiring.

I received a copy of this book this book from the publisher, Simon Spotlight Entertainment.

Monica Holloway will be hosting a live video chat on the Cowboy & Wills facebook page tonight, Tuesday, September 28th at 7:30 p.m. EST. Go to Cowboy & Wills


  1. Animals can do so much for all of us. I'm glad Wills was able to find such a wonderful dog.

  2. This sounds like such a heartwarming story. I read a book about a child with autism recently...that life can be very challenging. It's great to read that a dog could help.

    Thanks for visiting my blog.

  3. bermudaonion: I am way behind on my responses, Kathy! Sorry! Animals have remarkable healing and coping properties & share them willingly. I just loved this story about this llittle boy and his wonderful dog!

    Creations by Laurel-Rain Snow: I agree that autism can be very challenging for the person who has it, of course, and for his parents and loved ones. I loved how much this little boy came out of his shell when it became all about his dog! It's a wonderful book!

  4. Thanks for the link to this very interesting book

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