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Review of STONEWOLF by Brenda Seabrooke

by Becky Laney

Seabrooke, Brenda. 2005. STONEWOLF. New York: Holiday House. ISBN 0823418480.

STONEWOLF is a novel that raises more questions than it answers. Nicholas, our hero, is an orphan who has experienced hardship, pain, and cruelty within the Orphanage which is managed by a mean and domineering Matron. So when Nicholas is seemingly rescued by a mysterious stranger named Ranik, he is confused. Has he really been saved? Or is his new home just as dangerous as the Orphanage?

Nicholas is cautious; he's learned cruelty but has never seen kindness. The reader soon learns that Nicholas was right in being cautious. His new tormenters are even worse than those at the Orphanage. Although Nicholas does not understand why he is being held prisoner, he does realize that this mysterious castle is his prison. Befriended only by the cook, Nicholas learns that Ranik and his mysterious companions are more than just cold and distant caretakers. True, they are providing him with a comfortable bed, clean clothes, and real food--it's not the hideous gruel served at the orphanage on alternate days--there's a price to pay for these luxuries of basic existence.

Occasionally, Nicholas is taken from his room and drugged. Surrounded by mysterious men who keep asking him questions he doesn't know the answer to, Nicholas is repeatedly injected with truth serum. Under the influence of the serum, Nicholas hears himself responding to the questions. But he doesn't understand what he's saying. His captors learn from these sessions that Nicholas remembers a dog named Wuffy from his pre-Orphanage days, but they can't learn anything more from him than that. (He was three or four when he came to the Orphanage. He doesn't remember who his parents were or how he got to the Orphanage. PLOT SPOILER: Wuffy, by the way, is a fictional dog in a children's book. His parents wrote the secret--the secret they're after--in a page of a children's book. Right before his escape, Nicholas finds this book and takes it with him.)

Nicholas has few reasons to be happy. He enjoys spending time with the friendly cook in his kitchen. His other enjoyment comes from his relative freedom that he finds in a walled garden. One day, Nicholas is exploring in his closet and finds a secret door. He obtains a flashlight and waits for a chance to explore. Removing his silver bracelet, which he finally learns is how they monitor him, he goes exploring one night during a thunderstorm. What he finds proves to be his greatest delight of all. The secret door leads to a dark and dusty library. Nicholas has never learned to read. In fact, his captors do not even know that he speaks a language other than English. (His captors speak a language only identified by Nicholas as the Orphanage language.) Nicholas picks up a book--a picture book--to take with him. He teaches himself to read gradually using the cook and the kitchen as his reference points. His first book to read is Peter Rabbit. Soon Nicholas is regularly going to his hidden library and reading other books.

His captors become disappointed with their progress, they haven't been able to retrieve the memories in Nicholas' mind that they've been after. One of the men want to hook him up to a dangerous machine which the others fear will turn his brain to slush. Ranik is more patient, however, he feels that what Nicholas needs is a companion--a girl companion. Perhaps, a teenage girl will be able to find out information from the boy using kindess and sympathy. An American runaway is bribed by these mysterious men to live in the castle and spy on Nicholas.

Nicholas learns soonafter that once they learn whatever secret they're after that they plan on killing both him and the young girl. Nicholas realizes that they have to escape as soon as possible. But how do you escape a castle when you don't know where you are. He doesn't know where the castle is. He doesn't know what country he's in. He doesn't know where to go. But with a little teamwork, Nicholas and Larka make their escape. But the reader is left in doubt as to how safe their safehouse is. Are their new protectors really trustworthy? Can they be trusted? Or are they wanting to use him too?

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