Summary from Goodreads:
Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.
This book was such a pleasant surprise. The good reviews for this one have been piling up. The book came highly recommended by a coworker who knows the author. The author lives on Cape Cod. The local papers have been singing its praises, but so have the New York Times and various other bigger fish. I knew it would be good, but I wasn’t expecting to love it so much.
I’m not generally a big historical fiction fan, particularly with middle grade. So, despite the high praise, I wasn’t expecting to love this as much as I did. Thankfully, it was hard not to love this. The writing was beautiful, the characters were spot-on, the setting was fantastic, and I can understand why reviewers are comparing this to To Kill a Mockingbird.
The plot is actually rather simple. It’s about bullies and standing up to them. It’s about doing what you know is to be right, despite how easy it is to do the wrong thing. Annabelle is strong, intelligent, and the best kind of main character. She’s willing to suffer bullying, so her brothers won’t have to. She defends people who everyone else is so willing to judge without knowing. She stands up for the little guy.
I also love Anabelle’s family. It’s so nice to read a middle grade story where the family is not only present, but good people. I loved how tough her mom was, and how honest her father was. I even loved her snobby aunt. Seriously, each character felt like a real person. And the setting was gorgeous. I can close my eyes now, days after finishing this book, and still picture Wolf Hollow.
To top this all off, this book also just felt so relevant in today’s news. This book covers it all: hate, mental illness, war vets, PTSD, gun violence, xenophobia, and even a bit of police brutality. The book covers these things in a light, in the background, type of way where no lesson is necessarily jammed down your throat and you don’t even realize these topics are all addressed until you’re thinking about the story days later. I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
A lot of these tougher topics aren’t thoroughly addressed in an outright way, and I liked this. The author lets the reader decide, think about, and address these topics on their own terms. Yet, at the same time, things aren’t sugar coated either. The story was sad enough to cause a few tears from me. And while the main characters learned a very important lesson at the end, there was no super charming, Disney happily ever after. The outcome for many plotlines was sad. This felt plausible and true too. And this in itself was another lesson: the things you do and say are important and not everything can be fixed and solved with no loss or injury.
All in all, I found this to be a remarkably strong story. It was well written, well thought out, and well put together. The setting and characters were particularly strong. The plot was a simple one, handled eloquently. Some tough topics are covered and it does get rather sad at points. This being said, I think most middle grade readers can handle it. I definitely recommend it to fans of To Kill a Mockingbird. I see this one winning awards. I give it a 10/10.