Here’s the thing about “Wolf Hollow,” the new novel by Lauren Wolk of Centerville: the story is so compelling that when you finish it, you’ll be thrilled to know that another novel by Wolk will soon be released.
“Beyond the Bright Sea,” set in the Elizabeth Islands off Falmouth, is due out in May.
“Wolf Hollow” is for ages 10 and up and was named a 2017 Newbery Honor Book and won the New England Book Award. It was also named a best book of the year by NPR, the American Library Association and many more groups. And even if you are well over the age of 10 you will still enjoy the book which is set in rural Pennsylvania during World War II.
So how did Wolk, who grew up in Providence during the 1960s and 1970s and summered in Chatham, write so convincingly about growing up a full generation ahead of herself?
“My father grew up in the Pittsburgh area, and my mother grew up on a farm not far from there,” she said in an email interview last week. “I spent a lot of time on that farm over the years. It’s a taproot for me.”
A memoir Wolk’s mother wrote for the family “inspired me to start working on a piece of fiction set on a small farm during WWII,” Wolk says. “I didn’t have to do much other research. Just things like which radio programs were popular in the ‘40s, which board games the kids might have played, things I mostly discovered simply by asking my mother a lot of questions.”
Wolk, who is a poet and visual artist as well as a novelist, is the associate director of the Cultural Center of Cape Cod. A graduate of Brown University, she and her husband Richard Hall are the parents of two adult sons—Ryland and Cameron. Her first novel was “Those Who Favor Fire” in 1999.
She grew up in a book-loving family.
“My parents always read to us, every night, and I loved everything from ‘Pat the Bunny’ to ‘Goodnight Moon,’” she recalls. “When I could read on my own, I devoured everything I could get my hands on, but I was especially crazy about ‘Charlotte’s Web’” and other classic children’s novels.”
Many readers would add “Wolf Hollow” to that pantheon of well-loved childhood books. “‘Wolf Hollow’ reminds me of the other-era, powerful books I loved as a child,” says Caitlin Doggart, co-owner of Where the Sidewalk Ends Books in Chatham.
It is the fall of 1943 when “a dark-hearted girl” named Betty Glengarry arrives “and changed everything.” Betty, who is a “big, tough, older girl” from the city, is staying with her grandparents because she was deemed “incorrigible.”
Annabelle, age 12, guides us through this world that for children revolves around a one-room schoolhouse that is so crowded that when the boys show up from the farms, the thinner pupils have to share desk chairs.
Betty’s reign of terror begins in an innocent, if annoying manner with spitballs and jabs of a pencil. Soon, though, she graduates to extortion, telling Annabelle that she will harm her, and then her brothers, if Annabelle doesn’t “bring her something.”
When one of the older boys befriends Betty, she leaves spitballs behind. One shocking crime follows another.
Also living in this small town is a mysterious WWI veteran of few words named Toby. Toby blew into town during the Great Depression, a hobo who stayed. Toby spends his time walking in the woods. Toby is “strange.”
Betty has the unerring instincts of the psychopathic criminal, and she blames Toby for the violent crimes. This works because even well-meaning adults aren’t sure if Toby can be trusted. The drama escalates to a powerful conclusion.
Annabelle has been much praised because she stands up to a bully.
Wolk, who says both she and her sons were bullied, says when she discusses bullying with children she tells them that “by asking for help, they are giving someone else a gift: the chance to do something good and to feel wonderful about it.”
Some critics have compared “Wolf Hollow” to “To Kill a Mockingbird.” That book, like “Wolf Hollow,” features a mysterious eccentric in the neighborhood, Boo Radley.
“I am more than honored to be mentioned in the same breath with such a book,” Wolk says. “But when I first heard the comparison I was alarmed. First, I wrote ‘Wolf Hollow’ to honor my own family and its history, and I didn’t notice (let alone try to create) any similarities to Harper Lee’s book.” Wolk says she would have loved to converse with Lee about “the power of literature to capture a time and a place in the evolution of family and country.”
Wolk will speak on “Wolf Hollow” at the Eldredge Public Library on Tuesday, Feb. 21 at 7 p.m. She will also sign copies of her book courtesy of Where the Sidewalk Ends Books.
And on Monday, Feb. 20 at 1 p.m. author Matthew Van Fleet will sign copies of his new interactive book for children, “Dance” at Where the Sidewalk Ends, 432 Main St., Chatham.