What Walter reads that day changes him. Not in any way someone would really notice. He still goes to school, hangs out with his friends Jimmy and Mothball, and tries to avoid the Troll, the town recluse. But something in him has changed. It's as if he can feel a part of him growing—the part that can stand by and watch a house burn down or the life flow out of a fox, without doing anything to stop either. He knows he could—should—do something to help. But some part of him keeps him glued in place, watching with fascination and curiosity. Maybe it would have been better if Walter had never found out the things he did. Maybe he didn't really want to know. But then again, maybe he did. Richly atmospheric, The Hanging Woods is at times disturbing, but it is always riveting. It's a tale of deception, delusion, and the dark places a troubled mind can go.
Squeamish readers might steer clear of this potent first novel, which begins with the 13-year-old narrator savagely bludgeoning a trapped fox to death in the Alabama woods. The brutal opening scene sets the tone for an increasingly disturbing tale centered on the narrator, Walter, and his two best friends, Jimmy and Raymond, nicknamed Mothball. As Walter tells readers, he has just discovered a devastating family secret in his mother s diary (it is not revealed until close to the end), and a deep anger grows inside of him. The people around him, overcome by a sense of powerlessness, seem gripped by fury, too, and immune to violence. Mothball, for example, decides he will break the Guinness record for keeping alive a headless chicken; Sanders builds in the gruesome scenes with ax and chopping block, later with eye dropper and corn slurry, creating a horrifying metaphor for the blind cruelty that increasingly governs Walter s actions. The tone only darkens, while the novel stays suspenseful from start to finish. Readers will want to learn Walter s secrets and will not guess many answers in advance. The shocking ending, though wrapped up quickly, won t disappoint. Ages 12-up.