Goodreads: The Hazel Wood
Series: The Hazel Wood #1
Source: OwlCrate Box Purchase
Published: January 30, 2018
eventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the uncanny bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a cult-classic book of pitch-dark fairy tales, dies alone on her estate, the Hazel Wood, Alice learns how bad her luck can really get: her mother is stolen away―by a figure who claims to come from the Hinterland, the cruel supernatural world where her grandmother’s stories are set. Alice’s only lead is the message her mother left behind: “Stay away from the Hazel Wood.”
Alice has long steered clear of her grandmother’s cultish fans. But now she has no choice but to ally with classmate Ellery Finch, a Hinterland superfan who may have his own reasons for wanting to help her. To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began―and where she might find out how her own story went so wrong.
I had no idea The Hazel Wood was going to be so dark. Before reading it, I had the vague impression it was going to be about fairy tales but also about modern-day America, a mix that can be very hit or miss for me. I didn’t know anything else besides that a lot of my reviewer friends were raving about it. I was not expecting to be sitting up creeped out at night, worried I was going to have nightmares about the thing. Melissa Albert is a powerful writer.
It took me a little while to warm up to the book, as it seemed to have some elements I’ve seen before: the ever-wandering teen with her single mother, travelers who never stay in one place for long. Protagonist Alice is angsty about it, et cetera and so forth. The real magic starts once Albert introduces the idea of the Alice’s grandmothers half-famed/half-obscure book of fairy tales and the fan community that lives to track copies down.
The fairy tales interspersed through the main novel are dark and incredibly creepy, but what I really loved was that they were completely senseless. There was no moral, no comeuppance, no reason. Horrible things happened without logic or meaning. They just were. It’s not that I have some sort of cynicism about life that I saw reflected there or anything; I just thought it was a refreshing take on storytelling and kind of deliciously horrible.
Plot-wise, the book kept my attention, though the end of the book reminded me more of Ash and Bramble than I’d been anticipating (but in a way that makes way more sense than Ash and Bramble). The middle of the book is the strongest, but the characters help drive the book even when the plot falters slightly. I particularly enjoyed side character Finch, and Alice’s direct realization he’s an actual person and not just the sidekick in her story, and I hope the currently mysterious second book in this series will actually be a companion book about him.
My only real hang-up is that I thought the narrative voice came across like a thirty-year-old woman reflecting on her life, not a teenager. However, in world where I am frequently complaining that YA books all have the same (truly awful) prose style, I can live with this. Perhaps it simply would have worked better in third person, rather than first person.
Finally, this is one of the few books I’ve read where I really like the literary allusions, perhaps because, while some are obvious, others are quite subtle, and I never felt as though Albert was beating me over the head saying, “Look at me alluding to literature! I just LOVE books! I am such a bookworm! Allusions everywhere!!!” (I digress, but am I the only one who feels that way about some books?)
Bottom line: This is good. It’s a breath of fresh air in YA right now. I don’t really want a sequel because it feels nicely wrapped up to me, but, as I mentioned above, I’d be tempted by a companion book.