June 27, 2016 by kristin
Title: Wolf Hollow
Author: Lauren Wolk
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 Stars
I heard about Wolf Hollow from a post in the School Library Journal about predictions for 2017 Newbery and Caldecott winners. I’d been seeking out good Middle Grade novels to read because I have some Middle Grade ideas of my own percolating and want to steep myself in the genre.
Wolf Hollow has drawn comparisons to Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my favorites (me and every other woman of a certain age raised in Alabama), AND it has a gorgeous cover, so I bought a copy straightaway.
I started reading it the minute it arrived in the mail and finished it in one afternoon-long gulp, while overseeing my kids playing in the sandbox and running through the sprinkler.
Our own little sunshiney backyard idyll seemed at times not so distant from Wolf Hollow‘s small-town Pennsylvania of the 1940’s, with its warm, L.M. Montgomery-esque quality of rural tranquility. Annabelle lives on a modestly prosperous farm with parents who are firm but kind, a book-reading grandmother, a fractious aunt, and two lovable scamp younger brothers. She sits wedged beside her best friend in an overcrowded schoolroom.
But fissures that were already present under the surface of the small town begin to widen upon the arrival of a metaphorical wolf, a cherubic blonde bully who makes Nellie from Little House on the Prairie look like a saint. The rather terrifying Betty Glengarry is advanced in the arts of cruelty and deceit, and Annabelle must first cope with being a target herself, then go to great lengths to defend a friend, the troubled World War I vet who lingers around the edges of the farm, offering silent help whenever the family needs it.
This is not an easy story with easy resolutions and obvious answers. The characters – even that awful Betty Glengarry – are not one- or even two-dimensional. They are real, complicated, flawed. They all make mistakes.
Like To Kill a Mockingbird, this story is in part about fighting for justice instead of sitting idly by, even when the good your actions do is not enough. Annabelle, a fundamentally good and brave person, must make hard choices, decide when to tell lies and when to tell the truth. She learns hard lessons, like that making the right choices doesn’t always make things turn out right. And that even the timing of telling the truth can make a difference that can haunt for a lifetime.
Annabelle and most of her family are so warm and kind, but it does not save them from being touched by evil and tragedy. Sitting in my backyard, warm and safe and (I hope) kind, it made me ask myself the same questions Annabelle faced. Can we feel bad for people even when they do terrible things? What constitutes just punishment and what is too much? What would I do in Annabelle’s situation? Would I be as brave as her? Or would I be consumed with bitterness and hate?
Some reviewers on Goodreads said they think the themes of this novel may be too much for the 9-12 age range. I’m well into adulthood now, but I remember what I read at that age, remember the lessons that sank in from books like this, books that treated children not as innocents whose ears must be covered but like budding humans, who are trying to figure out how the world works.
They are the kinds of books I will direct my daughters toward as they grow up, and so is Wolf Hollow.
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