by Lauren Wolk
Interest level: Grades 4-8
Reading level: 4.6
5 out of 5 stars
Wolf Hollow is a book that does so many things well. The first, most notable thing is that Lauren Wolk has created an amazing main character. Annabelle is a strong female protagonist who has more integrity and courage than many of the adults in her life. Annabelle is polite and respectful, dedicated to family, and willing to try to see the good in all people.
The last quality is exemplified by her willingness to get to know a wandering war veteran who roams the countryside around the town of Wolf Hollow, Pennsylvania. Set between World War I and II, Toby exhibits symptoms of PTSD and some townspeople have labeled him as scary. While out taking pictures one day, Annabelle encounters Toby, who is curious about the camera. This encounter leads to a connection and tentative friendship between the the two.
Annabelle is challenged when Betty Glengarry joins her small one-room school. Annabelle’s words describe her as a “dark-hearted girl who came to our hills and changed everything.” Betty has been sent to live with her grandparents, and the townspeople call her “incorrigible.” To say that Betty is a bully is a severe understatement. Her actions go from menacingly aggressive to frightening evil, and after Toby stands up for Annabelle against Betty’s bullying, she sets her sights on him.
A horrendous event occurs, which Betty blames on Toby. Annabelle feels in her heart that Betty is responsible, but will have to go against the thoughts and actions of an entire community to prove it. It is a lot for a 12-year-old girl to do, and Wolk does a nice job portraying thoughts and actions as they would happen to a girl her age.
This is an intense story, but it is appropriate for mature 4th graders through 8th. There are intense scenes, and plenty of foreshadowing that indicate all might not end happily ever after, but that makes the story true to life. I like that Wolk doesn’t talk down to middle grade readers, but assumes they can handle some of the more real sides of life.
This work of historical fiction will give readers a good look at home life on a family farm in 1943. There are many wonderful conversations that can be sparked by Wolf Hollow — bullying, PTSD, seeing beyond the labels we place on people, if lying is ever okay, etc. I have seen several comments that this book has a theme similar to To Kill a Mockingbird. I would recommend this book for readers who enjoyed The War That Saved My Life or One Came Home. Like both of those books, I can see a Newbery award on the cover in January.