Wolf Hollow

9781101994825_p0_v2_s192x300     Bullies are mean and terrorizing.  Lauren Wolk’s coming of age novel Wolf Hollow demonstrates how ruthless and damaging lies and bullies can be.  Targeted for a young audience, the story’s message is appropriate for adults, reminding them not only of their responsibility to be aware of prejudicial labelling and scapegoating but also of the consequences of intolerance when left unchecked.

Although the story is set  in Western Pennsylvania in 1943, the theme is universal and could be happening today.  Annabelle, a precocious twelve year old who lives on a farm with her brothers and parents, narrates the story.  Betty, the new mean girl at school, who has been sent to live with her grandparents because she is “incorrigible” threatens Annabelle and her brothers; Betty is a “dark-hearted girl,” without morals or remorse, who beats Annabelle with a stick and breaks a bird’s neck.

Toby, the unshaven and tattered reclusive veteran of World War I,  roams the hills with his empty guns on his back; his mental health and morals are suspect and neighbors tolerate him as long as he stays out of the way.  But Annabelle’s mother, as well as Annabelle, see a harmless kind man with scars on his hand from the war, who lives a solitary life recovering from the horrors he faced as a soldier.  When Toby comes to Annabelle’s rescue from Betty,  Betty’s vengeful lies escalate to blame Toby for her own actions when she blinds a classmate and later tries to harm Annabelle’s brothers.

Betty’s determination to frame Toby awakens Annabelle’s protective instinct for the innocent man, and the plot turns into a series of soul-wrenching decisions and suspense as Betty unexpectedly disappears, and Annabelle determines her role in deciphering and exposing the truth.

The action escalates at the end, leading to a jarring but realistic conclusion.  Annabelle learns a lesson many adults are still grappling with:

“The stone made me aware for the first time that my life, however long, would amount to nothing more than a flicker. Not even a flicker. Not even a sigh…

And I decided that there might be things I would never understand, no matter how hard I tried. Though try I would.

And that there would be people who would never hear my one small voice, no matter what I had to say.

But then a better thought occurred, and this was the one I carried away with me that day:  If my life was to be just a single note in an endless symphony, how could I not sound it out for as long and as loudly as I could?”

Beautifully written…a book adults should discuss…





We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

9780385741262_p0_v3_s260x420E. Lockhart’s young adult novel We Were Liars has been designated by some as the Gone Girl of the teen set. Similarities include an unreliable narrator who leads the reader astray, the unexpected twists that change the plot, and of course, the shocking revelation at the end.  Do not skip to the last section titled “truth” if you like to savor the mystery and try to figure it out yourself.

  • The setting:  a rich family summering at their Martha’s Vineyard compound
  • The characters: the wealthy family patriach, with three divorced daughters bickering over trust funds and inheritance, and assorted grandchildren
  • The Liars:  the three teenage cousins, including the narrator, Cadence, and a handsome outsider, Gat, a love interest for Cadence

Summers in New England are intense, as Lockhart methodically peels away the facade of the perfect rich family, revealing petty jealousies and hidden prejudice. An accident during the summer of her 15th year leaves Cadence with crippling migraines and total amnesia. She cannot remember what actually happened, and Lockhart cleverly sustains the mystery, with clues that don’t seem obvious until the end.  When Cadence returns to the beach, two years later, all is revealed in a stunning plot twist.

Throughout the story, Lockhart inserts shortened versions of fairy tales, linking the cousins, their mothers, and the grandfather – an eerie Grimm perspective.  Like a Grimm fairy tale, the story has a moral and a high price for redemption.  The ending left me wondering if Cadence ever would recover – although she does finally remember.  Lockhart may have offered a strong lesson for younger readers about greed and keeping up appearances, but I will remember her observations of the fairy-tale family who actually lived in a nightmare.

Silver Phoenix

Whenever a bookstore owner tells me about her favorite book, I must buy it. Megan O’Sullivan, owner of Main Street Books in Cedar City, Utah not only recommends “Silver Phoenix,” she has a watercolor painted by the author, Cindy Pon, hanging above her shelves.

This young adult fantasy has no vampires nor zombies, but there be dragons and demons. The heroine, a young Chinese girl who had vowed in her former life to return to destroy the villain, has special powers – as most superheroes do. Ai Ling can hear others’ thoughts as well as connect her spirit to read their innermost feelings.

The quest to free her father connects her to a young handsome boy who is also in search of his father, a former ambassador from another country who loved his mother, one of the Emperor’s concubines. They both are outcasts – Chen Yong for his mixed heritage and Ai Ling for a crime in her father’s past.

The emphasis is on adventure, with only hints of romance. I read it between flights – fun and fast fantasy – the first in a series of three, and passed it on to a young girl who was trying out her new skateboard on the carpet at the gate.


John Green, Jane Austen and Famous Last Words

The recent controversy over a John Green book in Florida piqued my interest, so when I found another of his books -“Looking for Alaska” – for $4.99 on my iPad, I bought and read it on my next flight. Green uses his own experiences as fodder for an inside glimpse of high schoolers at boarding school. This young adult book was entertaining, thoughtful, and – yes – it made me cry. Probably more appropriate for high schoolers than middle school grade, yet these days fourth graders seem to know more about sex than most of us did as college freshman.

Pudge, the hero of the story, collects the dying words of the famous, and Green sprinkles the story with quotes – two define the characters and their futures:

“I go to seek the Great Perhaps”…Francois Rabelais

“How will I ever get out of this labyrinth!”…Simon Bolivar

With famous last words on my mind, I attended the matinee of “Sense and Sensibility” at the Utah Shakespeare Festival. In the opening scene, father Dashwood responds to his insensitive son’s query about his health with “I’m dying…” and soon after nods off. Good last lines are hard to come by.


Florida Banned Green – Now I Want to Read Him

An article in the LA Times “Book Jacket” – Florida School Nixes John Green’s ‘Paper Towns,’ Prompts Outcry–  reporting on the book banning of this young adult mystery in Orlando, Florida, had me searching for the book.  Although I have avoided John Green’s much touted The Fault in Our Stars – too sad – I have liked the author ever since I saw him interviewed on the Colbert Report.

I am number 10 on the wait list at my library – so someone must be reading this book.  Have you?

9780142414934_p0_v5_s260x420Paper Towns by John Green

Library Summary:
One month before graduating from his Central Florida high school, Quentin “Q” Jacobsen basks in the predictable boringness of his life until the beautiful and exciting Margo Roth Spiegelman, Q’s neighbor and classmate, takes him on a midnight adventure and then mysteriously disappears.

Awards:   A Junior Library Guild selection, Winner of the Edgar Award for Best Young Adult Mystery, New York Times bestseller