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.