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'Wolf Hollow': a powerful middle-grade tale of friendship, courage

Annabelle has always lived happily on her family’s farm in western Pennsylvania. But when Betty, a new girl, arrives in town, life changes significantly.

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    Wolf Hollow
    By Lauren Wolk
    Dutton
    304 pp.
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In the autumn of 1945, 12-year-old Annabelle’s “steady life began to spin” when a tough, older “dark-hearted girl” named Betty Glengarry came to town and changed everything. Betty had been sent to Wolf Hollow to live with her grandparents because she is incorrigible, a word Annabelle lets the dictionary define and does not dispute.

Annabelle – protagonist of Lauren Wolk's marvelous debut novel – has always lived happily on her family’s farm in western Pennsylvania with her parents, grandparents, an aunt who’s the town’s unhappy postmistress, and two younger brothers. It’s a place where folks regularly attend church, work hard, and take care of their neighbors – even one named Toby who came home from a war with problems often too insurmountable to bear. He lives near Annabelle’s farm; her family, unlike some in town, is not afraid of Toby. Watching from the old smokehouse where he’s squatting, living on the land and the goodness of neighbors like Annabelle’s mom, the man becomes a protector of the young girl, especially as she walks through the hollow to school with her brothers.

 Wolf Hollow School is a one-room affair, where not all the children bathe regularly and certainly not all of them want to be there. Annabelle’s best friend and desk mate, Ruth, loves to read as much as Annabelle does. But now Betty has invaded the classroom and that friendship. She throws spitballs, pours ink down the fronts of dresses, and cruelly teaches the younger children words and things they aren’t ready to hear. Soon she will hurt Ruth, causing her to leave the school and the town. She will harm one of Annabelle’s little brothers, and she will force Annabelle to lie.

Recommended: 100 of the best children's books

You know that sense of finishing a book and immediately wishing for someone to talk to about it? That’s how I felt about this stunning new middle-grade novel. Lauren Wolk also writes poetry, and here she fastens words together lyrically to create images and characters that not only float off the page, they tear your heart out. The publisher’s suggested reading level is ages 10 and older. Older readers might want to share it with younger readers, but I read it alone in one sitting. Anabelle’s courage and heart will make it a perfect read aloud also. "Wolf Hollow" is just that wonderful.

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