MTYT: Wolf Hollow

This week, we look at Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk, a story focused on bullying and friendships in a rural Pennsylvania town in 1943. We will also compare and contrast this book with last week’s book, The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. Both books contain elements of bullying, abuses of power, and the choice to do what is right. However, these books also have a number of differences worth discussing.

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Jean: This week, we consider Wolf Hollow, set in rural Pennsylvania during 1943. Wolf Hollow is a quiet farming community until Betty Glengarry, a 14-year-old girl who has come to live with her grandparents, appears on the scene. Betty bullies the other children, particularly the protagonist, 12-year-old Annabelle.

At school, Betty does not focus on her studies but rather connects with Andy, a boy who is a “sometimes” student, showing up only when the family farm is not in need of his help. Andy typically sleeps through the school day, disappearing with Betty at recess and acting as an accomplice in her hurtful acts. The third character might be called the strong, silent type. Toby is a WWI hero, damaged by the horror of war, who wanders the hills, living off the land and what people offer to trade. Toby is thought to be odd but harmless by most of the community–until Betty goes missing.

The story is told in first person through Annabelle’s eyes. Her voice is strong, but very different from Starr’s voice in The Hate U Give. There is a calm, quiet undertone as Annabelle describes people and events, even when tension is high.

The concept of the observer or witness, mentioned in last week’s discussion, is also relevant in this story. Each character observes their community differently and then finds unique ways to respond to those observations. Annabelle watches everyone who crosses her path and thoughtfully processes what they say and do; Betty observes her new community in order to realize her victims and learn their weaknesses. Toby looks from afar, but knows more about what is going on in the community than anyone else. The other adults–the caregivers for the younger characters–are seemingly less observant. Perception functions in the novel to generate understanding, but it also opens people up to manipulation. Betty manipulates her grandparents, other adults, Andy, and her victims; Annabelle manipulates Toby as well as her family members.

A minor character, Aunt Lily, actually plays a major role in creating conflict and prejudice in this story. Most of the characters are strong and confident in who they are as individuals. Differences in their thinking create a platform for readers to discuss and examine their own biases. I see many parallels with The Hate U Give and wonder what connections you all see.

Marilyn: First, both novels feature strong extended families that support both Annabelle and Starr. In The Hate U Give, Starr’s immediate family is made up of her parents and two brothers. Her uncle’s family also provides solace and advice. Starr visits her uncle’s house in the suburbs often, giving her and her family a timeout from the difficulties of living in Garden Heights, which is in the inner city. Starr’s parents and her uncle provide guidance for her as she navigates the terrible tragedy of her friend’s death. In Wolf Hollow, Annabelle’s extended family all live together–parents, children, grandparents and Aunt Lily. Just as Starr’s family offers her support during difficult challenges, Annabelle’s family does the same.

However, without their families’ help, both girls have to find their own voices and their own way of solving problems. Annabelle says in the prologue of the novel, “The year I turned twelve, I learned that what I said and what I did mattered.” Starr also learns that her voice matters, and that no matter the risk, she must speak the truth about how her friend was killed. Both authors weave their stories to show how their female characters learn to speak truth to power. That is the strongest connection I made between the two books.

Another connection I see is the strong setting in each book. Both characters are shaped by the places where they live. Starr discovers that “I can’t change where I come from or what I’ve been through, so why should I be ashamed of what makes me, me?” The farming community where Annabelle lives at first seems to lack diversity. But, then she discovers more about the stories of the people who live there. First is Toby, whose World War I experiences damaged him. Today, he would be described as suffering from PTSD. Annabelle trusts Toby and Toby watches over Annabelle. The settings are certainly different in time and place, but with those differences there are also similarities that move the plots forward and provide places where the unique challenges in each story can be played out.

I find more contrasts between the The Hate U Give and Wolf Hollow than the connections I have described. First of all, Wolf Hollow appeals to a much younger reader–eleven to fourteen. Of course, that doesn’t keep older readers from immersing in the story, but it can affect the ways we read each story. By contrast, The Hate U Give is oriented towards high school readers. The realism in The Hate U Give straight from current headlines appeals to teen readers, while Wolf Hollow explores bullying and issues that may concern middle school students. Because they appeal to different age groups, I wouldn’t include these books in the same text set. However, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely–the book we will discuss next week–and The Hate U Give would be excellent choices for a text set that explores police brutality and racism in our society today.

Other differences have to do with the time period of each novel. The Hate U Give is a contemporary story, while Wolf Hollow takes place in the 1940’s. Consequently, language that the characters use in each book differs. Starr and her friends use the slang and speech of current teens, while the language in Wolf Hollow is more antiquated.

Another contrast is the role of police in each story. In Wolf Hollow, the sheriff is joined by the men of the community as they try to find Betty and arrest the man who took her. Starr’s story, on the other hand, revolves around the terrible killing of her friend by a policeman who is not prosecuted for the incident. There are clear differences in the ways that authority is handled in each story, which has a lot to do with the time period and theme of each novel.

Holly: What interesting points you both bring up! I see the relevance between the two stories in respect to who gets to tell one story over another. As mentioned, both protagonists have to find their voices in order to disrupt an existing narrative. I’m reminded of an adage that goes something like, “The first story stands until the second story comes.” Broadening perspectives–finding a stronger truth through multiple lenses–is the strength of these two books.

There is also an aspect of terror in both books brought forth by violence. Bullying in Wolf Hollow is accomplished by those who are mean-spirited, and who have perhaps never been taught compassion. This leads to real tragedy and results in the deaths of two gentle, innocent people. How often does this happen, I wonder. I think of the poem, “There Are Men Too Gentle To Live Among Wolves,” by James Kavanaugh. Annabelle, who witnesses to the cruelty in the world, must carry that terror.

Then there is the terror that Starr witnesses as a result of the agendas of the powerful. I find this especially troubling. I can see how people–as in Wolf Hollow–are deluded by their own sense of justice, and how hurting others is an extension of their own pain. Do I want to accept this stance? No, but I can see how it works. In The Hate U Give, those in power skew the truth to fit an agenda–and to save themselves from the repercussions of their own violent actions–to the detriment of others. Starr witnessed this, and found herself questioning whether she could trust those who “protect and serve.” I am still wrestling with these concepts, but that is why both of these books are so powerful to me. They are both timely, relevant and important to discuss, perhaps as a way to address the ills of our societies.

Jean: Your comments make me wish we were all in the same room so we could discuss these books until the wee hours of the night! I love that you mention the different settings and how they play into each story, Marilyn, and the idea of voice as privilege surely needs more exploration, Holly.

I have also been thinking about assumptions. In both novels, the characters make assumptions and judgments which both clear and cloud our own perspectives as readers. “Protect and serve” can be a motto for bullies as well as the law. Is that not what the gangs think they are doing? Is Betty not protecting and serving her distraught self? Being able to understand someone else’s stance is part of each story. I hope we can continue to explore these ideas next week in our third book, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.

Title: Wolf Hollow
Author: Lauren Wolk
Publisher: Dutton Books for Young Readers
ISBN: 9781101994825
Date Published: May 3, 2016

This is the second installment of October 2017’s My Take/Your Take. To follow these continuing conversations, check back every Wednesday.

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