Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk

The year I turned twelve, I learned how to lie.wolf-hollow

I don’t mean the small fibs that children tell. I mean real lies fed by real fears—things I said and did that took me out of the life I’d always known and put me down hard into a new one….

     The year I turned twelve, I learned that what I said and what I did mattered.”
So begins Wolf Hollow, masterfully written by Lauren Wolk and drawing the reader right in.  It is 1943 and Annabelle and three generations of her family live on a farm in Pennsylvania.  She walks to school in a one room school house, but as the story begins, we learn that a bully has demanded money from her on her way home.  The bully, a new girl named Betty, has been “sent to the country because she was incorrigible.” Betty had stepped out from behind a tree in Wolf Hollow and stood in her path and threatened to beat her with a stick if she didn’t bring her something the next day.  Wolf Hollow had been named because men used to dig pits there to catch wolves who were killing chickens and such.   As Betty’s threats and escalate, she proves herself to be a “dark-hearted girl who came to our hills and changed everything.”
Instead of using the road to go from the hollow to the houses on the other side of Annabelle’s family’s farm, they often would walk across the fields.  Lots of people did.  But one person was different.  Toby was a veteran of WWI with his scarred left hand and his long oilcloth coat, carrying three rifles on his back. Toby lived in an old smokehouse which was hidden among trees and bushes.  annabelle met Toby when she was nine, outside taking photos.  As she slowly realized he was standing there watching her she took one of him.  He asked her if he could borrow it, and she gave it to him.  Toby would in time cover the inside of the smokehouse with his photos of the sky, the woods and the orchards.
Betty continues her hateful deeds, not unnoticed by quiet Toby.  When a rock is thrown and hits  Annabelle’s friend in the eye, Betty accuses Toby.  So when Betty goes missing, and Toby can’t be found, people begin to suspect him.  Not Annabelle though.
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Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt

Orbiting Jupiter is an elegantly written book, narrated by Jack, the Orbiting_Jupitertwelve-year-old son of an organic farmer and his wife. Set in rural Maine, the family has taken in a thirteen-year-old boy, Joseph Brook, as a foster child. Not only has Joseph been in juvie, but he is also the father of a baby girl named Jupiter. He is withdrawn and remote. Joseph won’t let anyone walk behind him, but Jack lets him know he “has his back.” He walks the 2 miles to school in the freezing cold with Joseph who gets harassed on the bus. Jack also teaches Joseph to milk cows and the cows take a liking to Joseph.  And Joseph shows Jack the planet Jupiter which he searches for nightly.

Despite the principal’s dislike of Joseph, Coach Swieteck, who’s back from Okay for Now, admires Joseph’s talent as do his math and English teachers. But Joseph wants so much to find his daughter whom he’s never seen but whom he loves.

Gary Schmidt is a tremendous author who creates real and unique characters all of whom are searching for something.  Watch him talk about Orbiting Jupiter

P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia

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Delphine, Vonetta and Fern return to Brooklyn after a visit to their mother, Cecile, who’s a member of the Black Panther Party, in Oakland, Ca. When they arrive in their Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood they find there’s been changes, though their grandmother, Big Ma,is still as strict as always and expects Delphine to keep everything in line. Their father, who seems happier and was whistling during the car ride home, has a new lady friend, Miss Marva Hendrix, and the new group, The Jackson Five, will soon be performing at Madison Square Garden.

Big Ma doesn’t really approve of either. After much pleading, the girls win the right to go to the concert if they save half the money by doing chores and Miss Hendrix, whom Delphine doesn’t really like, volunteers to take them. Soon Uncle Darnell returns from Vietnam, but he’s really changed. His presence brings joy then pain to the family. Delphine also has to contend with changes at school where she is the tallest girl and sometimes on the outs with her best friend Frieda. Also, she’s surprised to find that she has a different teacher than the one she expected, and he is also strict.

I love the title of this book. It is from the postscripts of letters from her mother, telling her to act eleven and not try to be older, even though she wants to spread her wings. Delphine writes to her mother regularly with her problems and receives spare, poetic replies and reminders that she is not grown and to be who she is.

I like the way williams-Garcia sets the mood through rather spare vignettes, by not belaboring points. We get a good sense of Delphine’s class mates, who she’s tight with and who not so much by watching them in action, not by explication. I now want to read the first in the series, One Crazy Summer, about their summer in Oakland.

The Thing About Luck by Cynthia Kadohata

The Thing about Luck is a quiet, beautiful book that needs the right readers. It’s written for youth, but is not the thing about luckkind of book that most kids are looking for. Indeed I had never read a book quite like it.

This has been a year of bad luck for the family and when their parents have to suddenly depart for Japan, Summer and her brother wind up as the charges of their grandparents Obaachan and Jiichan. It is getting near to wheat harvest time and Obaachan and Jiichan will have to do the work of their parents. Of course Summer and Jaz work hard too. They work for a family, the Parkers, that own combines, and the grandparents drive them to Texas rushing all night to get in the harvest before the rains come. Summer and her grandmother do the cooking for the crew. But when the crew has to split up and she and her Obaachan go to Oklahoma to beat the rain, her grandmother drives the combine.  Knowing how important this harvest is, Summer sneaks out at night to do her share of harvesting.

It’s an incredibly hard life, working against time and weather, bringing along homework and falling in love with the Parker’s son, all while living with her strict yet ailing Obaachan who nags Summer all the time, but who really loves her.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

“My sister, Greta, and I were having our portrait painted by our uncle Finn that afternoon because he knew he was dying.” So begins this intense but redemptive novel. Uncle Finn was fourteen-year-old June Elbus’s first love. An artist, he seemed to understand her the way no one else did. Shy, with no friends, June liked to go into the woods behind her house and pretend to be “in another time.” She was entranced with the Middle Ages, and remembered her many trips to the Cloisters with her Uncle Finn as well as learning Mozart’s Requiem from him.  “Crocodile was a name Finn invented for me because he said I was like something from another time that lurked around, watching and waiting, before I made my mind up about things.  I loved when he called me that.”[p.7]Image

As Finn is dying from AIDS in 1987, June’s mother would drive June and her older sister Greta’s portrait. When he dies, a strange man comes to the funeral, but he is turned away. Days later he manages to contact June, and cautiously, she develops a friendship with the man who was Finn’s lover.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is layered with many plots. There’s the story of Greta’s jealousy over June’s special love for Finn and her own acting out, her extreme cruelty to June, some of which seemed over the top or melodramatic at times. There’s the story of their mother’s refusal to acknowledge Finn’s lover, Toby, even though she had known all along that Finn was gay. Her story is indeed sad, because she was so filled with spite over what she took as Finn’s abandonment of her.  I wasn’t thrilled with the cover; though many elements of the novel are captured in it, I think it’s a bit off putting and sensational.

Flora by Gail Godwin

ImageIsolated on a North Carolina mountain top in the summer of 1945, in the rather shabby home of her grandparents called the “Old One Thousand,” the narrator, eleven-year-old Helen and her mother’s cousin Flora are waiting till summer ends and Helen’s father returns. Helen’s mother died when she was three and her grandmother Nonie has just recently died, so much to Helen’s annoyance, her father called upon Flora, a naïve young woman to be Helen’s companion while he goes away for the summer to do war work at Oak Ridge, TN.

For the first week, before Flora arrives, Helen had a choice of three friends with whom to stay and chose the one with the huge house, pool and a cook over her friend Brian who wanted to be a classical actor and was taking elocution lessons with an English lady. She would have had more fun with Brian and when he contracted polio during the week, for going to a swimming hole, she felt an enormous amount of guilt. But as her friend Annie later tells her, “Other people don’t exist when we’re not with you. We’re toys or something. You play with them and examine them and then you put them on a shelf and go away. We don’t have lives, we’re just your playthings.”[p.104]

Reading Flora is disturbing despite the beautiful writing. Helen seems to not feel any guilt for ridiculing Flora, who seems like an inconvenience in her life, especially after her father calls and orders them not to go out or have visitors. Helen who had an “irreproachable grandmother” [p 99] writes, “I was reminded afresh that my biggest fear concerning Flora was how her lack of reserve would reflect on our family.” In the middle of the book the issue of remorse comes up, before we even know what is to become of the characters on the mountaintop. “When did remorse fall into disfavor? It was sometime during the second half of my life.” Helen states, “Remorse is wired straight to the heart… it went out of fashion around the same time that ‘Stop feeling guilty,’ and ’You’re too hard on yourself.’ And ‘You need to love yourself more’ came into fashion.” [p. 152]

In the end I was left grieving for Helen and the harm she caused as well as with many questions.  Gail Godwin has long been one of my favorite authors.  She didn’t disappoint with this novel; in fact it was full of surprises as most of her books.  In the end I was left grieving for Helen and the harm she caused as well as with many questions.   Helen’s tale is told from the point of view of an old lady looking back with remorse and written for her, Flora Waring.