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Book Review

Wolf Hollow by Lauren Wolk has been reviewed by Focus on the Family’s marriage and parenting magazine.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

It is 1943. Eleven-year-old Annabelle lives with her parents, grandparents, Aunt Lily and two little brothers in the small town of Wolf Hollow, Pennsylvania. A quiet World War I veteran named Toby lives in an abandoned smokehouse nearby. Annabelle’s mother is sympathetic to the man, who always carries three guns and seems troubled but harmless. Sometimes Mother leaves food for him. She even loans him a camera she won in a contest because he seems so interested in photography. Annabelle and Toby cross paths but have little interaction with one another.

One day, a 14-year-old bully named Betty Glengarry moves to Wolf Hollow to stay with her grandparents. Betty’s meanness is evident to all the kids, but she singles out Annabelle because she thinks Annabelle is wealthy. Betty waits on the path where Annabelle walks home. She threatens to hurt Annabelle and her brothers if Annabelle won’t bring her an item of value.

Annabelle is nervous about Betty, but she decides to fight this battle without telling her parents. Annabelle doesn’t bring anything for Betty, so the bully continues to harass her. One day, she beats Annabelle with a stick. Another time, Betty breaks a bird’s neck right in front of Annabelle, just to get a reaction.

Toby appears and tells Betty to leave Annabelle alone. Betty falls into a patch of poison ivy and suffers for days. Annabelle and her mother boil roots and take medicine to the Glengarrys, but Betty is clearly still angry with Annabelle.

After Betty heals and returns to school, she starts spending time with a boy named Andy. The two frequently leave together, even during the school day. One day during a break from class, Annabelle chats with Mr. Ansel when he drives by with his cart. Her friend Ruth is standing nearby. From the hill above, which is obscured by trees and brush, someone throws a rock. It hits Ruth in the eye, which results in permanent blindness. People later speculate the rock was meant for Mr. Ansel because of his German heritage.

Annabelle tells her father what little she saw, and he tries to determine who might have thrown the rock. Betty blames Toby, but Betty herself seems like the prime suspect the more Annabelle investigates. She further mistrusts Betty when Annabelle and her brothers find a sharp wire strung across the path they take home from school.

Annabelle finally tells her parents about Betty’s bullying. They take Annabelle to the Glengarrys so they can all talk to the grandparents. Betty denies everything Annabelle says and accuses Toby again.

Annabelle knows the police intend to question Toby. She goes to his smokehouse and tells him he needs to come with her right away. She hides him in the loft of her family’s barn, and she brings him food and clothing. She even cuts his hair and beard until he is unrecognizable.

Toby opens up to Annabelle about the horrors he’s seen in war. He also tells her about a photograph he took the day Mr. Ansel was hit by the rock. Toby saw Betty throw it, but he hadn’t quite managed to catch the crime on camera.

Betty goes missing, and the search for Toby intensifies. Annabelle knows Toby has been in the barn and couldn’t have taken Betty. Annabelle finally realizes Betty may have fallen into an old ground well near Toby’s smokehouse. She leads police and searchers to the well. She also urges Toby, who looks like a stranger, to show up and rescue Betty.

Toby volunteers to go into the well, where he finds a badly injured Betty and pulls her out. She has been hanging suspended in the cold for several days and ultimately doesn’t survive. Even to her death she blames Toby for the ways she has hurt others.

Annabelle’s mother recognizes the stranger as Toby. She and Annabelle’s father try to help him, but police are closing in to capture him. Toby finally decides the only way to keep Annabelle and her family safe is to flee. He later dies at the hands of law enforcement officers who were tracking him. Annabelle’s parents pay for Toby’s funeral and burial.

Christian Beliefs

Annabelle’s family goes to church regularly. When Annabelle tries to blame herself for Betty’s death, Mother reminds her she isn’t God. Annabelle tries to convince Toby that God understands what he had to do in the war. Annabelle prays Betty will get scars on her body from falling into the poison ivy. She later feels bad for wishing evil on the girl.

Other Belief Systems


Authority Roles

Annabelle has loving parents who, like her, seek justice and want to help Toby. They put themselves at risk to do so. Annabelle’s grandparents are also loving family members. Aunt Lily is a self-righteous Christian who prays, reads the Bible frequently and often inserts preachy, judgmental comments. She softens a little by the end of the story.


The constable says “Lord God” when he learns Betty has died. Betty squeezes a quail’s neck until it breaks to terrorize Annabelle. Betty is impaled on a pipe when she falls in a well. Her discovery and rescue scene is somewhat bloody, and the injured girl screams out in agony.


Betty tells younger kids at school how babies are made. Annabelle says Betty explains it coarsely and then vows to beat up any kids who tell their parents. No specific details about what Betty told them appears in the text.

Discussion Topics

Get free discussion questions for this book and others, at FocusOnTheFamily.com/discuss-books.

Additional Comments/Notes

Lies/Deception: Annabelle tells a number of lies in her effort to keep Toby safe. She keeps Betty’s bullying a secret for some time. Annabelle’s parents also deceive law enforcement and even their own family members so Toby won’t be caught. Betty frequently lies about her bullying and about what others have done to her. As the story ends, Annabelle says this experience taught her to tell the truth.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book's review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Episode Reviews



Readability Age Range

10 and up


Lauren Wolk






Record Label



Dutton Children’s Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC


On Video

Year Published



Newbery Honor Book, 2017; Entertainment Weekly Best Middle Grade Books, 2016; ALA Notable Children’s Book, 2017 and others


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