This novel was shortlisted for the 2107 Carnegie Medal.
Annabelle is twelve years old when she learns to lie. She lives with her extended farming family in Pennsylvania, close to a wood and Wolf Hollow, where wolves were once trapped and caught. The small close-knit community is feeling the effects of the war (it is 1943) and a war-ravaged loner called Toby is living in an old smoke house, tolerated and by the community, and especially by Annabelle and her family.
Into this small world comes mean-hearted, bullying Betty who sets out to do her worst, including a hate campaign against Toby. Betty is not just a bully. She is cold and chilling. She knows exactly how to play one character off against another. She knows how to exploit prejudices – and there are plenty beneath the surface.
I wondered if Betty would ever improve. Probably not. I liked Annabelle’s Grandfather stark comment that “a wolf is not a dog and never will be...no matter how you raise it.”
Annabelle does her best to protect Toby, herself, her friends and her younger brothers. She doesn’t tell her family what is happening– until Betty disappears.
This is when I sat up to take notice. My mind roamed over Betty’s fate. I was already beginning to think that perhaps Toby wasn’t as good as I thought – or as I wanted him to be, thanks to Betty’s hate campaign; but I knew, in my heart, that the author had plenty of surprises for me.
She had. They took us on a dizzying ride to the truth.
Betty is discovered alive in a well in Wolf Hollow, thanks to Annabelle and Toby. She accuses Toby of throwing her into it to keep her mouth shut.
Everybody wants justice. Who is right? Who is wrong? Is Betty the wicked wolf – or Toby?
At this point, I paused to wonder how the novel would end. Would the author find redemption for Betty, let her survive to be a better person, to have learned from her wickedness? Would Toby turn out to be bad after all and would Annabelle have to grow up overnight because she had been deceived?
I’m not going to give away the ending. It’s enough for me to say that it is unexpected, poignant. It satisfies our deep desire for justice on nearly all levels, but still reveals prejudice in all its ugliness.
Pauline Francis www.paulinefrancis.co.uk
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