Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Review: Wolf Hollow

I read a sneak preview of Wolf Hollow and I was not impressed. Even so, something about the book stayed with me, nagging at the edge of my thoughts, until I bought a copy and finished reading it yesterday. I was impressed by the book.

Annabelle and her brothers travel from their grandparents' farm where she and her family live through the woods surrounding Wolf Hollow where previous generations of farmers in the area dug pits and baited them with poison to kill the wolves plaguing the region. The woods around the path are dark and full of shadows, the shadow of wolves prowling long ago and the shadow of an incorrigible girl sent to live with her grandparents nearby. Wolves come in the four-legged and the two-legged variety and Betty was a two-legged wolf.

Incorrigible is a pale word, a safe word to describe a predator and predator may be a little too strong to describe a girl who delights in bullying anyone -- and everyone -- she considers vulnerable. Betty thought she rendered Annabelle vulnerable by threatening Henry and James, Annabelle's younger brothers. That worked for a while. Annabelle offered Betty a penny that Betty threw away because a penny was not good enough. Betty expected more from someone who had as much as Annabelle did. Betty demanded something more, something substantial, and Annabelle would get it or her brothers would suffer.

Betty made good on her threat by seducing Henry and James close to her to pet the bunny she found. The boys were delighted, petting the wild bunny in Betty's life, a bunny she controlled with her fingers around its fragile neck. Annabelle shooed the boys off to school and faced the bully who responded by slowly squeezing the life from the bunny and throwing it down at Annabelle's feet. There was no doubt that Betty would hurt Henry and James if Annabelle didn't find something to placate Betty.

Every lie Annabelle told her parents about her day from the first encounter with Betty demonstrated how far off the path she had wandered. Betty got worse with each day. Annabelle wasn't alone, not since Tobias told her he'd seen everything when he gave the tossed aside penny back. When Ruth, Annabelle's best friend, was blinded by a rock thrown at a local German farmer Betty blamed Tobias and Tobias took the blame for the wire stretched across the path that could have killed Annabelle's brother instead of cutting his forehead open. The lies and the danger increased, not only to Annabelle, but to Toby because he was alone, a casualty of World War I wandering about the area carrying three rifles strapped to his back, taking photos with a camera that belonged to Annabelle's mother, and living rough in a converted smokehouse. Betty claimed she was afraid of Toby and Toby was following her, and then Betty goes missing.

Wolf Hollow is as much about the power of lies as it is about the courage of a 12-year-old girl in standing up for a neighbor when the adults have already judged someone guilty. Lauren Wolk takes her time building the background for her coming of age story, illuminating the times and the characters in shadows and light, giving the reader time to get invested in the outcome. Even when Betty's guilt is apparent, Wolk allows Annabelle's feelings for Betty change and mature as Annabelle steps in to protect Toby. It is not only Betty's bullying that takes center stage, but Annabelle's strength and her relationships with her family and her friends that truly stand at the heart of a childish conflict that quickly escalates to affect the world where Wolf Hollow's history and presence remains. Wolf Hollow is a complex and deeply texture tale of truth and lies and how lies can quickly become a truth that can destroy as well as explain. 5/5 stars. Don't let the slow beginning fool you; there is plentiful meat on these bones.

That is all. Disperse.

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