Teen Volunteer Book Review: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

This review was written by Kiryn Spicer-Preedy.

Kiryn is fourteen years old, and a 2021 Summer Teen Volunteer.

First Line: “It was dusk – winter dusk.”

Summary: This book follows the story of a little girl named Bonnie Green. Bonnie’s mother is ill, and must go away on a voyage to sea with her father, leaving her under the care of Miss Slighcarp, a governess who is very rude and mean to the servants and to Bonnie. What Bonnie thinks will be an enjoyable time spent running about and playing with her cousin Silvia, who has come to stay with them at Willoughby Chase, quickly turns into a nightmare of the very bad sort. As soon as Bonnie’s parents leave, Miss Slighcarp sets her evil plan in motion. She dismisses all of the servants and sells the furniture. When Bonnie protests against her doing these things, Miss Slighcarp shuts her up in a closet, with only Silvia on the other side of the doors for comfort. But they discover a secret tunnel in the walls to help them avoid Miss Slighcarp and listen to her plot. When Miss Slighcarp has sold everything of value that once belonged to Bonnie’s family, she sends Bonnie and Sylvia to her friend, Mrs. Brisket’s prison-like orphan school, where the children are forced to work day in and day out until they drop from exhaustion.

They are fed very little and hardly get to sleep, working in harsh environments with only rags for clothing. Bonnie and Sylvia have to learn to work for hours and hours on little food and little sleep, in the harsh cold. When the children behave badly, they are thrown into the coal pit for up to days without food. Except for Mrs. Brisket’s own daughter of course, who gets to boss the other girls around and lives a life of luxury while the other girls are forced to suffer. But one day when Bonnie spots her old friend Simon coming along, driving his geese to town to sell them, she tells him about their predicament and he helps them escape. They run from Mrs. Brisket’s prison-school to London to try to get Sylvia’s great aunt Jane to help them. But Sylvia has fallen ill from the harsh work at Mrs. Brisket’s orphanage. A friendly farmer gives them shelter for a few nights, but then they must travel on. Will they make it to Aunt Jane’s in time? And if they do, how will they stop Miss Slighcarp’s evil plan to turn their home into a school run by herself and the horrible Mrs. Brisket? 

Highlights: Watching Bonnie and Sylvia work together to get through they’re hardships and learn to think for themselves and figure out how to escape from their captors. 

Lowlights: For it being called The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, there aren’t a lot of wolves in it. There’s a few at the beginning, but if you’re looking for a story about a thrilling chase fleeing from a pack of bloodthirsty wolves, this isn’t it. 

FYI: This book is good for children of all ages. Other than harsh punishments from the adults in this story, it is perfectly fine for younger children.

Teen Volunteer Book Review: Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

Book Review written by Sara Hanford

Sara is sixteen years old, and a summer 2021 teen volunteer

First Line: “During the summer of 1941, every weekday morning at the top of the tide, McCall Purnell and I would board my skiff and go progging for crab.”

 Jacob Have I Loved is a tale of twin sisters in the early 1940’s living in Chesapeake Bay. The protagonist, Sara Louise, feels perpetually over shadowed by her beautiful, talented sister, Caroline. Caroline is frail and must be constantly taken care of and not exert herself, except, of course, to sing, which she can do so beautifully. The worst part of Louise’s life, however, is her grandmother, who compares Caroline to the biblical Jacob, while equating Louise to Esau. Growing up on a small island where everybody has always known everybody else, she feels like she can never escape the constant comparison to her sister. The book begins in her late childhood and follows her struggle to find her own identity apart from her sister and hometown.

Written by Katherine Paterson and published in 1980 by Thomas Y. Crowell Books, Jacob I Have Loved received the Newberry Medal in 1981 and has been loved by readers for over forty years.

Written as realistic fiction, the book can be considered over-dramatic by some readers. But it is a story of what it is like to feel unloved, and the angst that comes from being constantly overshadowed by someone else. While this story is written for children, its serious nature makes it a good read for adults and teens too. The story makes you think and stays in your mind long after you have finished the book.

Ultimately, it is the ending that really made this a fantastic book. It comes, almost out of nowhere, and draws the book into a full circle with its sudden conclusion that brings Louise a revelation about her life. In a story that takes its time to tell, the ending comes as a sort of snap when it becomes clear to the readers, and the protagonist, what has happened. Nevertheless it brings the book to a satisfactory close and leaves you with a story you will never forget.

I loved this book for its stirring story, for Katherine Paterson’s writing, and the ending that surprises the reader. Though it can be somewhat angsty, the writing keeps it fairly light. A classic coming of age story, this book is easy and fun to read, while still creating a thought-provoking story that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

Teen Volunteer Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Book Review written by Maya McKinnie

Maya is sixteen years old, and a summer 2021 teen volunteer

First line of the book: “Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair Family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.”

Summary: We Were Liars is the story of Cadence Eastman, a girl with a “perfect” family that is falling apart. Each summer they travel to a private island off the coast of Massachusetts. The Sinclair family is composed of Grandfather Harris Sinclair, the aunts: Penny, Carrie, and Bess, the littles: Will, Taft Liberty, and Bonnie, and last but not least the liars: Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. The story centers on Cadence and her group of cousins nicknamed the liars. Cadence suffers from post-traumatic headaches ever since an accident that happened two summers ago (summer fifteen). The thing is she can’t remember anything about the events that led up to her accident. Her mother claims that she would tell her every day what happened but then the next day Cadence would simply ask again. Finally the doctors told her mother to leave it alone and that it was best if Cadence remembered on her own. The only part of the story Cadence seems to retain is that she went swimming one night in late July all alone, was later found curled up on the beach half naked, and no one knows what happened. In addition to this piece of information, she remembers bits and pieces of summer fifteen but there are a few gaps in her memory. The main plot of the story begins when Cadence returns for the first time since the incident to the island to spend three weeks of the summer with her family and beloved liars. Determinedly she makes it her goal to discover for herself the truth of what happened during summer fifteen.

Thoughts: One of the best aspects of this story is the ultimate friendship that exists between Cadence, Johnny, Mirren, and Gat. I also loved the idea of a broken family that looks perfect on the outside. Overall I thought it was really well written and I loved the unique style the author wrote in. The ending was very unexpected but I absolutely loved it and would definitely recommend it for anyone who loves a story about overcoming tragedy narrated by the main character.

Favorite Quote: “We should not accept an evil we can change.”

FYI: There is definitely some foul language but not much more than your average YA novel. This book also might be unsuitable for those who are triggered by death, grief, or fire. 

What’s Ashley Reading?: Two Can Keep a Secret

Do you like true crime novels?  We have a really good selection here at the library.  I have not personally read many from this genre but they are constantly being checked out.  Authors like Ann Rule are the leaders in this area.  If you are looking for a true crime book we would be happy to help you find one or browse the 364.1 section of the non-fiction.

Two Can Keep a Secret by Karen M. McManus

First line: If I believed in omens, this would be a bad one.

Summary: Ellery and Ezra move to live with their grandmother in the small town, Echo Ridge. This idyllic little town has a dark past. The twins’ aunt disappeared here more than 20 years ago. Another girl was murdered at the local theme park. Now there is a stalker bringing back the old memories and threatening the homecoming court. Ellery, a true crime enthusiast, is determined to get some answers. However, there everyone has a secret making it even harder to unravel the mysteries of Echo Ridge.

Highlights: I was really excited to get an advance copy of this book. I really enjoyed the author’s debut novel, One Of Us Is Lying. From the very beginning the mystery and intrigue presented to the reader. I loved how fast paced everything was. I liked all the little twists and turn throughout. I kept considering all different angles and was shocked when the killer is revealed. Great job, Karen! The characters were a lot of fun. I really wish we could have gotten more of Sadie, the twins’ mom. I want to visit Fright Farm, the Halloween theme park. Who doesn’t want to have Halloween all year around?

Lowlights: There are lot of characters and the chapters bounce back and forth between Ellery and Malcolm. I had a hard time keeping track of who was saying what. I think I needed to pay more attention to the chapter titles. So this may be more my fault rather than the books.

FYI: Perfect for fans of Sara Shepard’s, Pretty Little Liars series.