Into the Hollow
by Lynn Vroman
Publication Date: November 6th, 2018
Cover Comments: This cover is what drew me to the book. I love the watercolor feel of it and the pink and green together, and it evokes feelings about the the beauty of Appalachia but also its solitude. Lovely.
The hollow was the perfect place to hide.
Or so Free’s dad thought. His plan: flee California with Free’s five-year-old brother illegally in tow, hide out in the mountains of West Virginia, make fast cash during ginseng season, then escape to a nicer place where the law can’t find them. Free isn’t thrilled about living in a holler alongside drug dealers and thieves, but she’s willing to do whatever it takes to keep her family safe. Unfortunately, with their father disappearing into the woods with increasing frequency, Free and her brother exist largely alone. Until their neighbor Cole appears with lots of questions.
Cole’s spent his entire life in the holler—and his entire life working out a way to leave his druggie mother and incarcerated brother. As the editor of the school newspaper, he’s an expert at getting to the bottom of a story, and he’s determined to crack Free—who seems un-crack-able.
When the family she was desperate to protect is ripped apart, Free turns to Cole for help, the only person willing. But while her plan escalates, Free can’t deny the pull she feels toward the boy with too many questions—and who holds just as many secrets. As they become closer, she finds that Cole might need her help as much as she needs his.
Into the Hollow really surprised me, in a good way. I was expecting a novel about a girl finding love despite difficult life circumstances, but what I got was much more. This is a novel about family, hope, poverty, grief, and yes, love. It was unique, heart-wrenching, and pulled me in from the start. I loved Free, Cole, Little, and the supporting characters who helped them on their way and added context to this world.
1) Slow-building romance
As I'm sure we can all attest to, insta-love is a huge trope in YA novels, and Cole's immediate obsession with Free made me think that their romance might progress too quickly to be believable. However, Free is understandably skittish and her standoffishness successfully prevents that from happening. I loved seeing the romance build from friendship and trust to something more. Cole is so sweet and respectful and tries his hardest not to push Free despite her secrets and mistrust.
2) Non-catty girls
Initially, it seems as though one of Cole's female friends is going to be a sort of arch-nemesis for Free, as she makes her jealously pretty clear in the beginning. However, I was pleased with female friendships Free was able to cultivate (albeit through Cole) and Into the Hollow didn't really play on high school drama much at all - impressive since Free is an easy target with her ripped and out of fashion clothing, etc.
3) Math (ugh but also yay!)
Sorry y'all Mean Girls is just super topical
4) Unique chapter openers
I'm a sucker for little "extras" in chapter openers - I love extra illustrations, quotes, anything to give a hint of what might happen in a unique way. The story is told in alternating perspectives - Free's and Cole's. Free's sections begin with a math equation and example - for example, a + b = c (in theory, anyway) opens up the first chapter, followed by more complicated equations captioned "momentum," etc. You can probably tell by this explanation that I'm not very good at math, but I loved this little extra insight into Free's mind. Cole's dream is to be a journalist, so his entries open up with a news article style captions like "Mystery Girl Moves in Next Door".
5) Unexpected plot
I had an idea of what I thought the climax of the novel might be early on, but when this event happened in the first third of the book, I knew it would be different than expected. It was so much better, and gave more time for the characters to develop as well as let us see them in different circumstances.
6) A Dumbledore or Gandalf if you will
I feel like Appalachia is a region that has gotten a lot of attention in nonfiction and the news lately (i.e. Hillbilly Elegy and responses to it), so it's exciting to see the region represented in YA. The hopelessness and poverty that pervades the area in the novel is disheartening, but seems accurate. Cole's family is torn apart by opiate addiction and the incarceration of his father and his abusive brother, Free and her family is on the run and squatting at an abandoned house, and other characters grapple with issues related to poverty. However, the resilience and heart of other characters shine through and show another side of the community. Other scenes highlight the natural beauty of the area.
8) Strong supporting characters
I loved the development of even the smaller supporting characters. Lynn Vroman tricked me into thinking someone was a one-dimensional person, then show me another side of them later on in the novel.
When Cole first helps to "save" Free, I thought that dynamic would stick throughout the book. However, Free gets the chance to save Cole too, and their relationship becomes more built on mutual trust and understanding than a white knight/damsel in distress situation.
10) We are family
I LOVED Free's relationship with her little brother, Little. It was the both the most heartwarming and heartbreaking part of the novel, and their little phrase "You're my favorite" ("I love you" in Little speak) made my heart grow three sizes each time it appeared. I also loved Free's memories of her mother, and her love of the music her mother loved. Free's relationship with her father is very complicated - they're affectionate and obviously love one another, but her father doesn't seem to be able to put what's best for his children first, sadly.
Cole also has a complicated relationship with his family. His mother and sister have struggled with opiate addiction, with his mother still on the drugs. His brother Richie is in prison at the beginning of the novel, along with this father, and Cole strives every day to make enough money to get out of the "holler" and away from his family. Cole's sister and her daughter, Cole's niece, provide some sweet spots in all the trauma, but ultimately add to the sadness of the situation since they are stuck as well.
11) Road trip
12) Indie author
I'm ashamed to say that I typically avoid books from small or indie publishers and authors. This books shows me that that's a huge mistake. I think editing could be better (part of my only nay) but this story is too good to miss because of snobbery.
I sat here for a few moments trying to come up with negatives for this book, but they're hard to come by. I can say that Cole is the sweetest and most understanding teenage boy I've ever read, and it's hard to believe he's real. It's hard to describe, but there's some small something missing from Into the Hollow that keeps me from rating it a full 5 stars. I think the writing is a little off in places, especially dialogue portions, possibly because this is an indie book (as far as I can tell). As we speak though, I'm reading another of Lynn Vroman's novels because I can't believe I haven't heard more about her before.
I highly recommend Into the Hollow for anyone looking for an engrossing novel about family, love, and hope/hopelessness in a rich Appalachian setting.