Wolf Hollow, Lauren Wolk’s debut novel, takes place in rural Pennsylvania in late 1943. The story is told by Annabelle as she looks back in time to the year she turned 12 and “learned to lie”. This ominous start lets the reader know that there is going to be big trouble developing, and so it does in the form of Betty, an “incorrigible” girl sent from the city to live with her grandparents.
Up to her twelfth year, Annabelle seems to have lived a steady and upstanding life within her family and community. She lives with her parents, her aunt, and her two younger brothers, Henry and James. She has also formed a friendship with an odd and mostly silent WWI vet named Toby who spends his days wandering through the woods and hills with three guns slung across his shoulder and sleeping in an old abandoned smokehouse. While most of the town’s people are suspicious of Toby, Annabelle’s family is friendly with him and her mother occasionally bundles up food for Annabelle to take to him.
As soon as Betty arrives, things start to go horribly wrong for Annabelle and many of the other children in the community. Betty threatens the kids with beatings and possible death if they let on to the adults about her bullying. Annabelle tries to avoid Betty and stays out of her notice, but soon enough Betty does notice Annabelle and starts to bully her, warning that her little brothers may have an “accident” if Annabelle tells. Toby catches Betty bullying Annabelle and from then on Annabelle has the sense that Toby is watching over her and her brothers though she rarely actually sees him. Often he just seems to appear when needed.
Soon, an accident occurs which leaves Annabelle’s best friend blind in one eye. No one saw who threw the rock that took Ruth’s eye except for Betty who blames Toby. From here things start to spiral out of control. The adults don’t know about Betty’s bullying and are already suspicious of Toby. Annabelle is sure that Toby would never do such a thing. Annabelle is still afraid to tell her parents of Betty’s bullying. What should she do? She is already deep in lies that she needed to tell her parents to hide evidence of Betty’s bullying. How can she prove Toby is innocent and is she absolutely sure he is?
Things in Wolf Hollow finally crash when both Betty and Toby go missing. Annabelle knows that the time has finally come when she must stand up and take action. It becomes clear that justice might not always prevail and adults don’t always have the answer or do the right thing. In this emotionally tense book, Annabelle comes face to face with serious issues and realizes that what she says and does matters and can have grave consequences.
I recommend this for readers in 4th or 5th grade and up.