Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk (2016).
Wolf Hollow brought tears to my eyes.
It wasn’t just the bully’s cold-hearted manipulations; nor was I moved by her virtuous, young classmate’s moral indignation, which forced her to conclude that righteous causes sometimes trump rules, and even laws.
I reacted emotionally upon discovering concrete evidence of the stellar moral character of the adult war veteran who was a primary target of the ruthless adolescent’s bullying. Up until that point in the book, the reclusive veteran might just as plausibly have been written off as an antisocial misanthrope. Readers’ crisp epiphanies attest to author Wolk’s dead-on character development and skillfully governed exposition.
Our author infuses the story with seamless insights, such as mother’s explanation of how a loner might sink into despondence just when others begin to care: “I don’t know, Anabelle. But I think about how it feels when your hands are so cold they go numb. How it’s only when they start to thaw out that you realize how much they hurt.”
Life lessons abound for readers of this Newbery Honor book, whose primary audience includes students in grades five through nine. Two inescapable realizations: Bad things happen to good people; and the world is not always fair.
I have discussed Wolf Hollow with sixth graders who weren’t exactly sure how they should respond to it. Several young readers said they found the book powerful, as did I. On the other hand, they didn’t seem to feel it justifiable to fully endorse a book with an ending that can only be called tragic.
Not unlike Anabelle’s realization that the high moral ground sometimes overshadows the law, I conclude that Wolf Hollow can help young readers discover the beauty in tragedy. In the right hands at the right time, reading Wolf Hollow can be an important catalyst in a child’s coming of age.
Review by Steve Ryan