Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk was published in 2016 by Dutton.
Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. Soon, she will need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.
I am always wary of books compared to To Kill a Mockingbird, but for the first time, I think Wolf Hollow actually deserves it. The story did remind me of a much tamer version of the classic, and while it’s not as startlingly honest or as foundational as Harper Lee’s classic, Wolf Hollow still communicates much of the same message that can be found in To Kill a Mockingbird, and in a way that’s more suitable for children.
I think the choice of a veteran as the target for another’s malice was a good one. Too often, veterans are forgotten or ignored, and highlighting the awfulness of World War I and how that affected many soldiers who went home only to be shunned because of their inability to cope made a good focus for the novel. Annabelle was also a great protagonist: indignant when she should be, kind when she should be, and conflicted when she should be. Her feelings about Betty were done extremely well; Wolk could have easily went too far in either the “she’s terrible” category or the “let’s completely excuse everything she’s done” category, but she doesn’t. Annabelle’s feelings are exactly what a conflicted young girl’s might be if she doesn’t like someone, but is also aware of how awful that person’s situation is and feels bad for her.
I think Wolf Hollow would be a great precursor to To Kill a Mockingbird, a way to introduce some of the ideas and messages raised in Lee’s novel without also having to deal with the more serious content. It’s not anywhere close to becoming as foundational a classic, but Wolf Hollow strikes all the right notes, gets across some very important messages, and would be a great book to discuss with a younger reader.
Recommended Age Range: 12+
Warnings: Some graphic imagery, death.
Genre: Historical Fiction, Middle Grade
“This is the only thing I’m going to give you,” I said, holding the penny out on a tight palm, the way I knew to feed a dog. “Don’t ask me for anything more. I don’t have anything else.”
Betty looked at the penny, picked it up with her fingertips, peered into my face. “A penny?”
“You can get two pieces of hard candy for that,” I said.
“I don’t want two pieces of hard candy,” she said. She tossed the penny into the undergrowth. “Tomorrow you bring me something better than a penny.”
“I don’t have anything else to bring you, Betty. And I think it’s just mean of you to be like this. We could be friends, you know,” I said, quite aware that I sounded pretty dubious as I said it. “If you would stop being so mean.”