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Monday, June 20
My rating: ★★★★½
Publisher: Dutton Books
Date of publication: May 3, 2016
Age: Grades 5 - 8
Genre: Historical Fiction
Format: library eBook
Themes: bullies, war veterans, country life, family, friendship, courage, truth
Growing up in the shadows cast by two world wars, Annabelle has lived a mostly quiet, steady life in her small Pennsylvania town. Until the day new student Betty Glengarry walks into her class. Betty quickly reveals herself to be cruel and manipulative, and while her bullying seems isolated at first, things quickly escalate, and reclusive World War I veteran Toby becomes a target of her attacks. While others have always seen Toby’s strangeness, Annabelle knows only kindness. She will soon need to find the courage to stand as a lone voice of justice as tensions mount.
This has been one of the hardest books I've ever had to review. It goes something along these lines: I hate that I love it, and love that I hate it. In terms of objectively judging its merits, it's amazing. The story is completely engrossing; I could not put it down and read it straight through (though there was a bit of a two-climax-ending that made it not as smooth). The writing is quite literally some of the best I've ever seen, to the point where I didn't even notice it as I was reading. I was just in it. The characters were beautifully done, with strong moments of heartbreak, love, and development. I could leave it at that and give it five stars to go with all the other starred-reviews and laud it has already received. A Newbery contender for sure!
But then there's the actual story itself. This expert writing with strong characters told a story that just about made me sick. Betty is the cruelest of bullies, doing things that I wouldn't want just anybody (or that is to say any child) reading. My anxiety while reading this was through the roof. Granted, Wolk did balance the evil with a lot of good, with sweet moments of reprieve. But I will say now, the ending is realistic—not happy. When I finished, I had to just sit for a long while, processing everything. It was a powerful story.
So in the end, the simple fact that this book could elicit such strong emotions is testament to its masterful writing. However, I recommend it carefully. It's not for every child. As a parent or teacher, I would read it first. It's perfect for discussion on so many difficult topics. So be prepared, read it, and perhaps you'll hate/love it as I did.
Find it at your library or on Amazon
Hey I'm participating in my first Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday! Check it out here!