Willis, Jeanne. Naked Without a Hat. Delacorte, 2004. ISBN 978-0385731669 224 pp. $
Something seems not quite right about the main character in this book, who tells you almost right off the bat he has a secret. Is it his straightforward tone? His gullible demeanor? His sensitivity? When Will’s guitar playing is driving his mother’s lover crazy so Mom dumps son Will off to live in some sort of rooming house with two other men who make him look normal–Rocko, a vegetable obsessed painter who may be autistic, and James, who seems immature and sex-crazed. A woman named Chrissy finds them jobs and seems to be responsible for keeping their lives in order. When Will falls in love with a gypsy girl, he discovers that love means honesty and sharing, but can Zara live with the secret he can’t bear to tell?
The quirky characters are beautifully presented here. Although the reader senses something is a bit off, it turns out that these broken people are actually quite ordinary and have the same wants and needs as anybody else. “We’re all nuts, aren’t we? Just different kinds of nuts,” says James at the end. And this epiphany makes the chaos of the first 200 pages completely believable, from the hats to the pick mucking to the birthday party to a cat named Fuzzydude. Yep–all that, and a happy ending. Not a necessary purchase, but this is one of those books that will increase the scope and breadth of your collection.