Wolf Hollow, Middle Grade Historical Fiction by Lauren Wolk
My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
My feelings may never recover.
As a rule, I believe that I can read and enjoy any genre. This is obviously not true, but it’s something I wish was true. It also isn’t true that I enjoy all Historical Fiction. (I also wish this was true.) But the HF that I usually run from with my metaphorical arms flailing behind me is Sad-Making Historical Fiction. This book should come with a Tissue Warning. As in, you will need some.
AND YET I LOVED IT. I loved every heartstring-twisting moment. I loved Annabelle’s wistful yet grounded voice and her odd friendship with Toby, the laconic older man. The evocative calm of the setting. I loved how agitated I got, even as I told myself I didn’t want to read a profound book that I knew would upset me.
As with many a Middle Grade story, this is a journey into an expanded world view and early steps into maturity. However, that expanded world is not happier or better than what it replaces. Annabelle is content and innocent before a bully slips into her world like a snake in the grass. The avalanche that follows their initial encounter is heralded only by the phrase, “I just didn’t know how complicated things would become.”
Often, complications in fiction are over the top or at least heavily reliant on coincidence. In Wolf Hollow, the rising drama of complexity is terribly realistic. The bully isn’t merely a misunderstood girl who could be won over with friendship. She is a disturbed child who committed serious acts of violence. Adults could not solve everything. They often made it worse.
The setting is particularly well-crafted. The school is overstuffed with forty children of varying ages and only one teacher. No one has private conversations on the telephone because of a gossipy switchboard operator. History is “how it’s always been” at the same time it is “mistakes were made, won’t happen again.” People are ready to believe the worst of others simply because of who talked to them first, or other simple prejudices.
One excellent device for showing the general feeling among the community without drafting out a bunch of characters was Annabelle’s Aunt Lily. She is unpleasant and baselessly superior. At one point she quotes the bible to stop Annabelle from voicing a truth which she, Aunt Lily, does not like.
To an older reader, the writing might seem to come on a bit strong or leading, but I believe that for the intended audience, it’s just right. It does come shy of stating its message outright. The ending hit me as hard as any punch in the feels administered when I was twelve.