by Lauren Wolk
I don't read many middle grade books, but I actually really liked this one. It's one of those books that hits you right in the feels -- if a book can make me cry, it's probably doing something right and this one definitely had me tearing up at the end.Summary: Annabelle has lived in Wolf Hollow all her life: a quiet place, still scarred by two world wars. But when cruel, manipulative Betty arrives in town, Annabelle's calm world is shattered, along with everything she's ever known about right and wrong.
When Betty accuses gentle loner Toby - a traumatised ex-soldier - of a terrible act, Annabelle knows he's innocent. Then Betty disappears . . .
Now Annabelle must protect Toby from the spiralling accusations and hysteria, until she can prove to Wolf Hollow what really happened to Betty.
I really liked the writing and most of the characters (the ones I didn't like were ones we weren't meant to like though). And the story? It's predictable in some ways, but it still had me hooked through the second half of the book.
And I really loved the setting -- both the time period and the location. It's set during the second world war (my favourites character served in the first world war) and I loved the way those things were woven into the story. The small town location was perfect for showing that mob mentality and the way gossip and likes can spread like wildfire.
The only problem I had with the book really was that it felt very...emotionally manipulative? Like, instead of trusting the reader to feel the things we should be feeling and to discern right from wrong, it over simplifies the antagonist of the story.
Betty has no depth at all, it's impossible to feel sympathy for her or care about what happens to her. The only thing that almost makes her marginally more human is her feelings for Andy but then the way they are together cancels that out. There are certain things she does that felt like overkill. The story would've made all the same points but would've had an added layer of moral complexity had Betty just been a "regular" bully whose actions went a bit too far and her lies spiralled out of control, but instead she seemed more like a genuine psychopath or sociopath. Very much a Wicked Witch of the West type villain.
Basically, I really liked the book and it's definitely the kind of story I'd have my niece or nephew read, I just wish it had given the readers (especially younger ones) a bit more credit to think and feel the right things in response to the story without making it so simple, because in real life it's not usually so black and white and people are usually more complex than that.
I'd rate the story 4 stars out of 5.