craft review by LA Biscay
A 2017 Newbery Honor, Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk is set in rural Pennsylvania in 1943 and is a coming of age story about almost-twelve-year-old Annabelle. Right from the beginning, I sensed her story would be emotionally fraught. In the prologue, an older Annabelle reflects:
The year I turned twelve, I learned that what I said and what I did mattered.
So much, sometimes, that I wasn’t sure I wanted such a burden.
But I took it anyway, and carried it as best I could.
I was hooked by the emotional weight of Annabelle’s burden, and the opening chapters did not disappoint. A “dark-hearted” girl named Betty physically bullies Annabelle. Those scenes are intense, which is perhaps one of several reasons my local bookstore shelved this title under YA, even though it’s marketed as Middle Grade. By Chapter 5, I’ll flat out tell you: I was worried. I worried about Annabelle, her brothers, and her friend Toby, a reclusive WWI veteran who lives in the woods. Before the end of the book, I cried. (Possibly sobbed. That I’m not telling.) I couldn’t put the book down until I found out how it ended, and when I did, I realized it was well past my bedtime.
Wow. Lauren Wolk made me worry, cry (sob), AND miss half a night’s sleep. How did she do that?
I turned to “Writing Irresistible Kidlit” by Mary Kole for answers. Kole says, “Interiority—access to a character’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions—is a great tool that writers don’t use nearly enough….Interiority can often be a nice middle ground between Telling and Showing….(It’s) usually found in summary at the end of a scene or paragraph, and used judiciously to make sure the emotional moment really ‘lands’ with the reader.”
I’d say Wolk really sticks her emotional landings. I re-read “Wolf Hollow” with Interiority in mind, examining Annabelle’s thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the events in the plot. For the sake of keeping spoilers to a minimum, I’ll focus on the first quarter of the book.
Interiority in Action
During the inciting incident, Betty threatens to hurt Annabelle’s younger brothers if she doesn’t offer payment the following day. Wolk takes us inside Annabelle’s mind with this moment of Interiority:
I decided, as I plodded slowly up the path, that Betty wouldn’t go after [my brothers] until she tried me, so I’d wait to see if she was a barker or a biter before telling my parents…. But I confessed to myself that I was afraid in a way I hadn’t known before. (Ch. 2)
From that last sentence, we understand the intensity of Annabelle’s fear. Wrapped in a comparison and a confession, it is a powerful way to tell the emotion: “I was afraid.”
During the next day’s encounter, Annabelle’s payment of a penny incenses Betty. She beats Annabelle with a stick and demands something better. That evening, Annabelle weighs her options on how to proceed with Betty, and Wolk reveals one of Annabelle’s character flaws in this bit of Interiority:
I examined my aching hip and the bruise that Betty had given me. It looked like a red cucumber, not yet gone to black, sore to the touch.
And I made up my mind right then that she would not have Aunt Lily’s sweater frog. It wasn’t possible that even a girl like Betty would hurt my brothers, or me, beyond a bruise shaped like a cucumber. That sort of thing didn’t happen. (Ch. 5)
Annabelle isn’t capable of believing someone can be so malicious, and her naiveté may be her undoing. Here’s where I started worrying. Betty seems capable of more than just a stick beating, and Annabelle seems ill-equipped to handle the situation.
And…the next encounter with Betty culminates in an event that disturbs Annabelle deeply. But in a twist of fate, Betty trips over a log and ends up on her backside. Wolk combines Annabelle’s emotional summary of the event and her reaction to where Betty landed:
[Betty] clearly didn’t realize that she’d been lying in a bed of poison ivy, and I wasn’t about to tell her.
If I went to hell for wishing a plague upon her, then that’s where I would go….
I left her there, musing in that patch of poison, and prayed that she would wake tomorrow with scarlet boils and hard scabs. I prayed for a rash to veil her face with pustules and scales. And I prayed for scars. I did. I prayed for scars on the hands that [committed that horrible act.] And I wasn’t sorry that I did. (Ch. 6)
That’s some serious emotion. The intensity of her praying makes this internal thought process feel active. And the final line sticks the landing: No Regrets.
After Betty has a massive allergic reaction, Annabelle is remorseful — not because she wished pain on Betty, but because the events caused by Betty are forcing Annabelle out of childhood:
I wanted to rewind the clock to where it had been before (Betty) arrived. I wanted to undo. To unremember. To be who I’d been before: someone who had never prayed for blisters. Someone who had never even considered doing so. (Ch. 7)
Here, Wolk doesn’t tell the reader that Annabelle is sad, and Wolk doesn’t show it with physical action like crying. From Annabelle’s list of “wants,” we understand she is in mourning for a loss of her innocence. I’m starting to recognize a pattern as well. Wolk uses the reactions of deciding, praying, wanting and hoping as mechanisms to show-and-tell through Interiority.
Interiority Reveals Growth
Without spoiling the entire plot, I’ll just say the moment that pushed me over the emotional edge comes at the end of Chapter 17. (Let me know if you agree!) It is one sentence that shatters Annabelle’s innocence and her unspoken expectations:
So I held very still and waited, trying not to hear it all, hoping, even at just eleven, almost twelve, that I would never have sons of my own. (Ch. 17)
Despite this fatalism, Annabelle maintains courage throughout her narrative, though she is not naively optimistic. She grows to understand that her words and deeds do matter, and with this sentence, the promise of the book’s opening is fulfilled:
If my life was to be just one single note in an endless symphony, how could I not sound it out for as long and as loudly as I could? (Ch. 22)
I highly recommend Wolf Hollow for craft study. Wolk skillfully uses Interiority throughout the book, and I was riveted. I empathized with Annabelle, and I championed her all the way to end. And I cried some more.
LA Biscay writes children’s books and dances everyday, if only down the hall. As a teacher of Creative Movement, she enjoys assembling basic dance elements into unique combinations. It’s probably why she’s a fan of story structure! LA is an active member of SCBWI. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, children, super dog, and a brood of chickens that lay green eggs. Yep. Green eggs.