Mei-Lu’s #CBR5 review #8 The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately to complement the two selections we’re reading in twitter book club #1book140 (The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and Little Brother by Cory Doctorow).  Jane Aiken has been mentioned as an influence in a lot of author interviews that I’ve read lately so I picked this book up from my library.

I have to say, this book is not at all what I was expecting it to be.  Because of the title, and the ominousness of the wolves in the first chapter, I was expecting book to be some form of supernatural story.  In fact, it’s really a classic Gothic storyline, the sort which implies the supernatural but ultimately has a reasonable explanation for everything.  That makes it sound as if I didn’t enjoy this book, but I really did.  Just because it’s a genre book, and thus adheres to certain generic traditions, doesn’t mean that it isn’t well-written or fun to read.

This book is almost like a cross between Jane Eyre and the Little Princess.  Cousins Bonnie and Sylvia are living in sprawling mansion Willoughby Chase under the charge of their governess, the villainous Miss Slighcarp.  Bonnie’s mother is very ill and her father has taken her to tropical climes in hopes of finding a cure for her illness.  As soon as the children (and the estate) are completely in Miss Slighcarp’s charge, misfortune reigns down on these two plucky heroines as Miss Slighcarp and her conspirators seek to take over the wealthy estate and dispossess the two girls.

One of the pleasures of this book was that I genuinely didn’t know how it was going to turn out (though I felt that the two main characters would triumph in the end, I really did not know exactly what their happy ending would look like).  Aiken’s descriptions are so evocative that I was completely sucked into the brooding yet innocent world of her story.  While the characters have some of the oversimplification that one particularly sees in vintage YA literature (a la Little Princess), in the context of this fairy tale-ish world, the lack of complexity didn’t really bother me.  Particularly given that the plot was much more suspenseful than is usual for vintage YA.   Good stuff.

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