The Wolf Hour, by Sara Lewis Holmes, with a rather different sort of interview

The Wolf Hour, by Sara Lewis Holmes (Arthur A. Levine, middle grade, Sept. 2017), is a lovely book for those who like to venture into the dark woods of stories made horribly real (and who don't mind spiders, because there are lots of spiders....)

Magia has lived all life at the edge of a vast Polish forest, the Puszcza, a dark and magical place.  Her father is a woodcutter, and Magia wants to follow in his footsteps, though he warns her against this because those steps lead into the heart of the forest.   And in the Puszcza stories have become real, played out over and over again, with deadly consequences.  When Magia is forced to follow into the forest, she finds herself caught in the web of an evil enchantment that threatens not just her own future but that of her whole family.  With young girls vanishing into the forest, and her father lost there as well,  accusations of witchcraft leveled at her, and her mother and siblings fallen into a magical sleep, Magia must find the strength to confront the woman controlling the threads of the stories and break those threads once and for all.  Her only ally is a wolf, Martin, who fell afoul of his own story when he failed to grasp that he was supposed to be eating the three little pigs (he'd rather be snug in a good library reading, as is the case with so many of us....). But Magia, with her red hood, is bound by her own story to be a wolf-killer....

It is a haunting story, that leads the reader along with Magia into a web of alternate realities.  It not a fairy tell retelling, but more a twisting and re-use of familiar stories, used to excellent effect to create the challenges that lie within the Puszcza.  The occasionally intrusion of the narrator (which I sometimes find annoying, but didn't here) worked to great effect, keeping readers thinking and aware of Stories and Storytelling.  

Magia is one of the most lonely heroines I've read this year, and it was easy to sympathize and mentally encourage her as she pressed onward.  Not only does she have fight an evil, magical antagonist, she has to resist the expectations of ordinary human folk, making her very relatable.  Martin the wolf, with his penchant for a good book, and failed efforts to break the story of the three little pigs (not because he knew that's what he was doing, but because he simply was not interested in being a vicious killer), is one of my favorite wolf characters ever, and possibly even more relatable!  His efforts to communicate with the pigs never work; he never found the right words to get them to listen (which was, within the framework of the story they're trapped in, not possible in any event, but I felt for him as he tried his best).

The Wolf Hour doesn't fit neatly into standard "this is a middle grade" book categorization (for ages 9-12) , though that's where I'd put it.  It really is an all ages book, one that encourages and rewards thoughtful reading. When I enjoy a book, I generally don't think about it much, but I found myself doing so here, and it enhanced my pleasure and let me relate in a deeper way to Magia as we both tried to unravel the enchantments of the forest.  In fact, I was thinking so much that I actually underlined bits of the book that struck me as breadcrumbs on the trail into the story and dogeared the pages to come back to.  (I was reading an ARC.  I would never do this to a finished copy).

I then offered some of these passages to Sara Lewis Holmes for her thoughts on them!

And so, a rather different sort of interview:

"You must learn the paths of the forest, and how to find the direction of the sun when there's no light overhead.  You must be so certain of your true story that you always end up where you want to be."

Tata gives Magia this advice early in the novel, and I know he believes it, and is trying to pass on his wisdom to her.  Ironically, though, it’s Tata who ends up where he doesn’t want to be and Magia who has to straighten out the “true story.” 

In writing The Wolf Hour, I was interested in how stories both fool and guide us. Other people love to plug us into their narratives, and assign us roles to play. That’s why Magia’s path to her “true story” is so twisty and difficult—-because she’s fighting against the world’s notion of who she should be… or not be. And I wanted readers to know that twisty and difficult is okay.

"Better she'd not come back, then," Pani Wolburska said, her voice breathless.  "Some lost things should stay lost.”

Oh, this is a hard one.  I had to include this awful line because this is what some people believe about some human beings.  That you can lose your way so badly that you can never come home.  But I don’t believe that. (Even my wolves can be heroes.) 

Of course, it helps to have friends who will believe the best of you, instead of the worst, as Pani Wolburska does. And to have wise books and kind teachers, too—-and yet, those things are often “lost” in budgets. Honestly, I think the only thing that deserves to stay lost is that sixth grade picture of me in a Bay City Rollers costume. 

"A wolf is everything we give it to swallow.  We kill it and it comes back. We fight it and it never dies.  We humans write stories to kill it, to defeat it. to boil it alive, to slice open its bell, but none of that works."
Her voice grew teeth.
"Because you can't truly kill a wolf.  He's the wildness without which the world would be a pale shadow of itself.  He makes us feel alive.  He reminds us of the magic in our tame and failing human bones!"

One of the irritating things about my antagonist, Miss Grand, is that she often tells the truth about the world: that it is hard; that people will take things from you; that Story is the way to fight back.  And here, too, she is right about Wolves—-that we invest them with wily power, and then try with all our might to kill them so that we can be safe. 

And yet—-is being safe the only thing to strive for? What about being fully alive? What about finding the magic in our own bones? What about being brave and finding our own way? 
I believe wildness is necessary in my own life—-I love being outdoors whenever I can—- and I know it’s necessary in my creative life, too—-for I can’t write true story without being somewhat uncivilized. By that, I mean:  I don’t always get out of my pajamas when I should.  I don’t always write drafts that make sense the first time, or the third time, or the fifth. (Ask my editor!)  And I don’t always let my antagonists lie. Even if I wish a wolf would just gobble her up. 

(Back to me, Charlotte)

Thank you Sara, both for expanding on the quotations and for writing this lovely, magical book!

This post is part of a blog tour for The Wolf Hour, the first stop is here at Finding Wonderland, where you'll find an interview and a review, and here's another review at By Singing Light.

disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher


  1. Sounds like a very interesting story, I like the excerpts you've quoted.

  2. I love fairy tales! This sounds like an interesting and fun book. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Goodness, this sounds like such a good book. I will definitely have to check it out. Thanks for telling me about it.

  4. Wow, you picked THE BEST pull quotes, Charlotte! This is why I love the book; the depth and the range. Adults will be thinking as they read this aloud to the kids, who, at first read, will maybe just enjoy the story, but as they read it themselves, they'll find more to love.

    1. and I wasn't even specifically looking for them as I read...This has never happened to me before (that I can remember).


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