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The Hanging Woods by Scott Loring Sanders

The Hanging Woods

by Scott Loring Sanders

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Showing 5 of 5
Wow!!! ( )
  Sullywriter | Apr 3, 2013 |
It was an bad book. It had inappropriate language not recommended for younger children. It talked about violence, racism, and sex, and I thought it was poorly written. It seemed like every other word was a swear word. ( )
  greenARE777 | Mar 16, 2011 |
Reviewed by Cana Rensberger for TeensReadToo.com

You know that feeling you get when you pass a particularly horrific accident? It's not that you want someone to be hurt, but you can't help slowing down to look. That's how I felt as I began reading this book.

The year is 1975, shortly after the end of the Vietnam War. Times are tough. Tempers flare and the stress level is high. There are many historical elements that firmly root this story in this time period, yet the events and emotions in this story are not relegated to the 70's. Knowing this human condition exists today gives it even more impact.

Scott Loring Sanders deftly places the reader into the mind of thirteen-year-old Walter. Through Walter, the reader will experience the killing of a fox up close and personal. I could feel the fear and panic of the fox as he struggled against the trap. I felt the life energy of that fox dissipate into nothing through the handle of the stick used to beat him senseless, and I felt both Walter's revulsion and thrill over his first kill. His grandfather had insisted on this savage method. He told Walter, "...you gotta learn the hard way, really feel it with your hands, so you can appreciate the easy way."

This first chapter sets the tone of the book. Disturbing, you say? Absolutely. Fascinating? Positively! I read on, I'll admit, with some trepidation, as a reader who neither hunts, nor appreciates the feeling of satisfaction that hunters must feel when taking their prize, a foreigner to this male world of violence and dominance.

Meet Walter's friends. Jimmy is the leader who's rough around the edges, chiseled and hardened at the hands of his abusive, alcoholic father. Mothball's the chubby oddball who aims to become famous by beheading a chicken in just the right way so that he, Mothball, can keep it alive for over eighteen months and, therefore, beat the Guinness Book record. As you might imagine, he's subjected to more than his share of pranks and jokes, which makes him even more determined to succeed.

The boys walk the town in the wee hours of the morning as they pull off ever-escalating pranks on the local townspeople. To prove to one another that they aren't chicken, the risk and fear factors are taken up a notch each night. They venture further toward the Hanging Woods, Niggertown, and the Troll, a homeless Vietnam War veteran. When Troll sees them, they race home, adrenaline pumping, fear lighting a fire beneath their feet. But neither Jimmy nor Mothball knows Walter's secret, that Troll knows him. He called him by name!

The temperament of a thirteen-year-old around his parents is, by design, often volatile and argumentative. These are the times that teens must decide for themselves who they are and who they want to be. They examine the values their parents have tried to teach and compare them with the values their parents have shown. They are bombarded with the voices and opinions of their peers and walk a tightrope between what they are coming to believe about the world, and what they have been taught to believe. Imagine the turmoil Walter must feel when his safety net is snatched away the day he reads the secrets in his mother's diary. Walter's interpretation of those events results in his slow unraveling. The shift in the foundation of his world leaves Walter feeling unable to do anything more than stand by and let the darkness inside take over.

Other reviews have compared this book to TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD by Harper Lee and I see the similarities. Certainly the author has nailed the social atmosphere of the time, an interesting statement in itself, since the two books are set forty years apart. Both books masterfully address cruelty, hate, and prejudice, and both feature an innocent character on trial who makes the perfect target, in part, because they are reclusive and strange, the criminal stereotype. But for me, the similarities end there. Where Atticus Finch patiently strives to teach and show high moral values, the parents in THE HANGING WOODS are equally dysfunctional, instead teaching their son anger, frustration, and resignation.

As I read this book, I was strangely reminded of the classic movie, THE CHRISTMAS STORY, but without the light humor. Both feature rough, real-men-don't-cry type fathers; apologetic, coddling mothers; and sons struggling to find their place in their family and the world. In both, you become immersed in the strange world of guy bonding; fathers attempting to grow their sons up tough.

THE HANGING WOODS is a riveting look into a disturbed mind. I doubt I will soon forget the images and emotions Scott Loring Sanders brought forth in this, his first novel. I warn you, this is a dark, troubling read that will niggle at your conscience for days, if not weeks. But if you're like me, you won't be able to put it down until you find out if Walter's okay, in just the same way that you can't help slowing to view that accident.

I have compared THE HANGING WOODS to two enduring classics. I found myself researching the Tallapoosa River that separated Walter and his friends from Niggertown. I asked a social studies teacher what he knew of the Tallapoosa and the history of the time period. This novel completely got under my skin and instilled a desire in me to find out more.

How could I not also give it a Gold Star? I look forward to reading what Mr. Sanders has to offer next. ( )
  GeniusJen | Oct 11, 2009 |
I picked this up because the cover and the blurbs made it seem like a "Stand by Me" sort of novel. Set in the 1970s in a small, struggling working class town, this is the story of 3 teen boys who are uneasy with themselves and with each other. Trust is a major theme in this book - though lifelong friends, the three main characters don't trust each other at all. They make mention of John Knowles "A Seperate Peace" and there are some interesting parallels. The characters don't grab you, and the story is very plodding for the first 3/4 of the book. Everyone is mildly to stronly racist, but little to no moral judgement attached. The only bright spot is a headless turkey that one character is trying to keep alive in order to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. The ending is a "gotcha" one, but I found it not that shocking coming from such an unreliable narrator. I wouldn't booktalk it, but I may shelftalk it if I had a teen who was into murder mysteries and wanted something that was quick and easy. ( )
  jentifer | Aug 15, 2009 |
Terrible. Completely awful. Writing? Sucked. Overly detailed about SETTING, of all things. And it was juvenile writing. Believable? Hardly. It was too boring and dumb to even get into. I felt so far removed I could barely begin to care about the characters OR the plot line for that matter. But wait, there really wasn't a plot line! Ugh! The last twenty pages were alright. But not great. I feel like the author threw all of the plot and its twists in at the last minute. Anyway, don't waste your time like I did on this one people. ( )
  emma_mc | Jun 16, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0618881255, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:30 -0400)

In rural Alabama during the summer of 1975, three teenaged boys build a treehouse, try to keep a headless turkey alive, and become involved in a murder mystery.

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