This review and subsequent comments are sure to spoil the ending of this book as well as various plot points throughout. If you don’t like spoilers and haven’t read it yet, read it and then come back and join the discussion.
“The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.”
This book was love at first sentence for me. We already have character, suspense, and a hint of plot. The prologue compelled me to read on. It also felt relatable, immediately, to some of the current political situation here in the states and how a young person might be feeling about this world around us. The story is grounded deeply in setting and time, but holds relevance to today’s young people dealing with bullies, with truth, with tyranny, with injustice and with fear on both a national stage and in their schools and communities. Lies sometimes succeed. Truth sometimes fails. This is a lesson we are all learning.
Wolk’s writing is near perfection. Short, powerful, and simple spare sentences. Lovely poetic turn of phrase. Always saying just what needs to be said – no more and no less. Providing all the detail needed, without losing her audience in unnecessary description.
One of the strengths of this book is the narrator’s voice. The story is told in past-tense as Annabelle looks back at this time in her life. Although the narration has an adult feel to it – nostalgic, analytical – it still maintains enough of the 12-year-old Annabelle for a young audience to connect. The author shows great respect for this audience by trusting them to understand without being talked down to in spite of the gravity of theme and plot and complexity of morality. What a gift.
The narration includes powerful foreshadowing. The title tells us that the name Wolf Hollow is important and the book nearly opens with the description of how the town got its name and a grandfather’s assessment that “A wolf is not a dog and never will be,” “no matter how you raise it.” Then enters Betty, a wolf if ever there was one. It is clear that Betty is beyond a bully and is something more sinister, less forgivable, and maybe, in a way, less morally complex. We don’t know anything about her past or what led her to where she is, but we do know that death is of no concern to her, and we learn this early on when she kills a quail in her bare hands. Is she evil? Is she disturbed? Is she the product of a hard childhood? These questions aren’t answered. But at the end of the book she, like the wolves the hollow is named after, is dead in a pit.
There is no relief in this book. No break in the razor sharp suspense and no levity. Some may see this as a flaw, but I see this as an incredibly brave and powerful choice. It is a choice to take the reader on a dark journey with a dark ending that leaves as many questions as it does answers. It trusts the reader to be thoughtful and capable.
I know that I would love to see this book with a sticker.
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About Sharon McKellar
Sharon McKellar is the Supervising Librarian for Teen Services at the Oakland Public Library in California. She has served on the Rainbow List Committee, the Notable Children’s Recordings Committee, The Arbuthnot Honor Lecture Committee, and the 2015 Caldecott Committee. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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