HOLLOW CHEST by Brita Sandstrom
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Charlie can’t wait for his brother Theo to come home from the war. Since losing his father when the German’s bombed London, Charlie has been trying to fill the absence in his family, to help his mother around the house and especially to care for his grandfather who has dementia, but terrible nightmares of falling bombs and wolves clawing at his chest leave him exhausted. Once Theo returns, things will finally feel more normal.
But Theo comes home changed–no longer the supportive big brother, but irritable and closed off. Charlie’s grandfather assures him that Theo just needs time to heal, but Charlie soon discovers the truth: the wolves from his nightmares are real and one of them ate Theo’s heart. Despite the danger that lies ahead, Charlie is determined to find the war wolves and do whatever it takes to get his brother’s heart back.
This historical fantasy novel is really an extended metaphor about the effects of war on mental health and the ways that love can help families heal. Though the premise may sound frightening, this novel is a far cry from horror; the fantasy elements are introduced and resolved gently, the focus always on real-world character relationships. I’d recommend this book to fans of Anne Ursu and similar “metaphorical folklore” middle grade stories.