By Lauren Wolk
Published by Corgi
ISBN 978 0 552 57429 7
Echoing the tone and themes of Harper Lee’s classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Lauren Wolk’s amazing debut novel Wolf Hollow is a beautifully written story of unexpected friendship, injustice and how one person’s evil actions can effect a whole community. Twelve-year old Annabelle narrates the story of what happened one summer in the 1940s in Wolf Hollow in rural western Pennsylvania in the US. And she gives her account of the dramatic happenings that summer in spare and no-nonsense language that matches perfectly the tale she has to tell.
Life in Wolf Hollow amongst the hard-working farming families is usually uneventful and predictable, even though across the world there is a war going on. Annabelle has lived all her life in this quiet community, and has picked up values and attitudes well beyond her years. She is mature and perspective, observing life in Wolf Hollow with a calm and astute eye.
But Annabelle’s innocence and honesty are of no use when Betty Glengarry arrives in town. Betty is a psychopathic bully, and country girls like Annabelle and her best friend Ruth are easy pickings. Betty has moved into the area to live with her grandparents, and she walks into the local school with evil intent behind her smile. Wolk’s portrayal of nasty Betty pulls no punches. Her bullying is destructive and merciless. And she knows how to pick her targets. Betty’s evil presence in the first half of Wolf Hollow is skin-crawlingly disturbing.
When Betty’s evil moves out of the classroom, Annabelle’s calm and enclosed world is shattered along with everything she has ever accepted about right and wrong. Betty moves her target onto Toby, a damaged and misunderstood recluse who lives in a hut on the outskirts of Wolf Hollow.
Toby is a First world war veteran who is both physically and mentally scarred. He stalks the neighbourhood hills with three guns strapped to his back. But folk in the area leave him alone, and he doesn’t interfere with them. But Betty sees Toby’s weakness and she makes a move that also involves Ruth, Annabelle’s friend. This sequence in the story and its aftermath make for suspenseful and upsetting reading.
Things come to a head concerning Betty Glengarry, when she suddenly goes missing. Suspicion naturally falls on loner Toby. Annabelle watches in despair as the townspeople turn against him. Tensions quickly mount in Wolf Hollow, and Annabelle knows she has to find out what has happened to Betty and do everything she can to protect Toby. The suspense that Wolk builds up in the second half of the novel is masterly and extremely powerful.
Wolf Hollow is a riveting read that will keep readers of all ages on the edge of their seats. Its themes are complex, and its stark honesty and uncompromising exploration of evil, injustice and innocence are outstanding. And at its centre is a strong and very real young lady who is suddenly pulled into a dark mystery and the dark grey areas of what the adult world sees as right and wrong.
Here we have a classic in the making. Wolk’s debut is unmissable literate and exciting tour de force that any reader any age will long remember, and in a few years will quite possibly want to read again. Comparisons to the great To Kill a Mockingbird are not lazy exaggerations. In a nutshell, Wolk’s novel stuns.
John Millen can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org