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Historical Fiction, LOVELACE nominee 2020, Middle Grade Readers, Young Adult Readers

WOLF HOLLOW by Lauren Wolk…2020 LOVELACE nominee Division II

Wolf Hollow is not a book I would have picked up on my own.  I read Wolf Hollow because it is on the list of Maud Hart Lovelace nominees for 2020.  I know, also, that it was Newbery Honor book in 2017.  I listened to this one on Audio and did not have any preconceived ideas about the story before I began.

The main character is Annabelle McBride, almost twelve, living in a small town in Pennsylvania in the 1940s. She lives with her parents, grandparents, two younger brothers and her Aunt Lily on their farm.  Soon after we are introduced to Annabelle she meets Betty Glengarry.  Betty has come to stay with her grandparents and it is implied that she had difficulties in her own community, though very little is revealed about her history.  Betty is an out-and-out bully.  She terrorizes Annabelle–and later, her brothers.

There is also a man who lives in town, named Toby.  He is a World War I veteran who has obviously been severely affected by what he saw and experienced on the battle lines.  He’s regarded as strange by the majority of townspeople, but Annabelle’s mother has always been kind to him and Annabelle has never known Toby to be frightening–just odd.  For unknown reasons, Betty begins to include Toby as a target in her schemes.  Events begin to steamroll and get horribly out of control involving Betty, Toby, Annabelle and her family–and eventually the entire town.

I disliked this book for a number of reasons.  I have to qualify my opinion by saying I have a hard time (and often will not finish) books that involve violence toward children, animals or vulnerable adults.  This book has all three.  In reading other reviews of Wolf Hollow I notice that many readers think the violence level is too intense for middle grades. I have a lower threshold for these types of violence due to my own personal history and I have concerns about the violence in this book and I think I would want to know my child/student was reading about it so I could check in with them but I don’t necessarily think it is out of bounds for a middle grade reader. It depends entirely on the reader.  Also, I can sometimes withstand reading the violent situations when they are balanced by a need in the plot structure.  I don’t feel that was the case in Wolf Hollow.

Some reviewers have compared Wolf Hollow to To Kill a Mockingbird–which I find ludicrous, as well insulting to Mockingbird.  I cared about the characters in Mockingbird and was engaged in the story from the beginning. Wolf Hollow was a long, plodding narrative with a main character I really didn’t care much about, and often found irritating. The pacing of the story was unbearably slow.  It was a real effort to finish it.

I respect the author for her courage in writing a middle grade novel that doesn’t tie everything up with a pretty bow at the end in an unrealistic fashion.  However, I was underwhelmed with the result. There are much better stories out there that show children transitioning from a naïve, idealistic view of the world to a more realistic–and often disheartening–one.  Lisa Moore Ramee’s contemporary novel A Good Kind of Trouble is a great example.  The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Paterson is another story that doesn’t end as predictably as most middle grade novels, allowing a child to conceive of a result she had neither originally anticipated nor wanted.

I would NOT recommend the audio version of this book either, as the narrator did not create effective distinctions between the characters.  I don’t think Wolf Hollow will be a popular choice with young readers, nor would I recommend it to any.  This is one of those ‘award’ books that feels to me as if it has been chosen by adults of the opinion that young readers should read it, rather than looking at whether the actual structure, characters and pacing support the content.  In my opinion, Wolf Hollow does not.

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