Reading/Interest Level: Intermediate
Author: Lauren Wolk
Publisher: Puffin Books
Some life lessons sink deep. This is true for Annabelle who is eleven, almost twelve. Until now her life has been about chores, family, school, and animals but this year, things become more complex. Betty Glengarry moves in with her grandparents and immediately begins bullying Annabelle. Annabelle decides to handle the situation by herself. But Betty is a bigger problem than Annabelle can handle on her own, especially when Betty and the school bully, Andy, combine forces. Annabelle's little brother is injured by a wire stretched between two trees on the path to the school house and her friend, Ruth, loses an eye when a rock is thrown from a hill above the school during recess. Annabelle knows in her gut that both incidents are Betty's fault, but Betty blames the World War I veteran, Toby, who never talks and who carries three guns on his back as he wanders the neighboring woods. Toby is Annabelle's friend and he defends her when Betty threatens to beat her. Things spiral into a knot of accusations and World War II prejudices. Annabelle speaks out, hides Toby, and helps rescue Betty from a well. Things have gone beyond anyone's control and despite Annabelle's efforts Betty dies of gangrene and Toby is killed by State troopers.
This book belongs on a shelf between To Kill a Mockingbird and Up a Road Slowly. Annabelle's voice as she tells the story is very similar to Scout and Julie, as are the lessons that she learns from her experiences. Her voice is very pragmatic and straight forward. She tells the story with little emotional embellishment and yet emotions are intense throughout the book. The tension of the plot and the pace is also intense and helps to push the reader to emotional empathy with Annabelle, her family, and Toby. The ending is satisfying but hard. Sensitive readers may find Toby's death upsetting although no detail is presented beyond the fact of his death. Themes of the story include prejudice, friendship, bullying, family dynamics and choosing between right and wrong and the gamut of choices in between. The complexity of the story and the dynamics between these themes will keep a reader thinking for days after finishing the novel. Great for opening a discussion from adult to child on any of these subjects. A very highly recommended read.
*Contains moderate violence.