Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

Teens love fantasy. Teens love magic with a touch of the creepy. Readers love story. Readers love books about books. Debut author Melissa Albert’s The Hazel Wood is all of these so I believe it will be one of the biggest Young Adult hits of 2018. The Hazel Wood feels timeless so one almost expects it to begin with the words “Long ago in a faraway land,” but it’s a contemporary novel so it begins with the thoughts of seventeen-year-old Alice, “My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.” Alice and her mother Ella “lived like vagrants, staying with friends till our welcome wore through at the elbows, perching in precarious places, then moving on. We didn’t have a chance to stand still. Until the year I turned seventeen, and Althea died in the Hazel Wood. . .

Until Althea Prosperine (born Anna Parks) died all alone on the grand estate she’d named the Hazel Wood, my mother and I had spent our lives as bad luck guests. We moved at least twice a year and sometimes more, but the bad luck always found us.”

Alice had spent much of her childhood trying to learn more about her grandmother Althea, the reclusive author of a famous, yet almost impossible to find book of eerie fairy tales. The book, Tales from the Hinterland, and the movie that earned it its fame made Althea wealthy and paid for the Hazel Wood estate that so intrigued Alice. When Ella disappears after leaving a message for Alice to “stay the hell away from the Hazel Wood,” Alice begins a terrifying trek to find the estate and her mother. Helped by Finch, a wealthy, biracial friend from school, whose fanatic devotion to the book means that he may know how to locate the mysterious Hazel Wood, Alice enters the foreboding world of the Hinterland where story is paramount, but it still may not save you.

Unlike most books for teens, this one is short on romance and absent the sex that seems to pepper so many popular novels for older YA readers. Instead, it features disturbingly realistic, yet fantastic scenes of the gritty, fearless Alice’s encounters with bloody and sometimes gruesome scenes. Much of the book is laced with references to children’s literature that geeky young readers will adore as much as I did.

Until Alice set off for the Hazel Wood, I was mesmerized, then I found myself wanting to skim some of the more sinister scenes to get to the climax. I stuck with it, read every word, and was rewarded by a less than happily-ever-after ending that fit the book perfectly.  I don’t think fantasy-loving teens will find the menacing atmosphere as off-putting as I did and I predict that they, like all the major critics, will give this one five stars. The writing is so atmospheric and haunting that even though the carnage was more than I wanted, I admire it immensely.

Summing it Up: Buy The Hazel Wood for fantasy-loving teens and young adults fourteen and older. Read it for a chilling glimpse into a fantasy world where story matters. Savor it for its exquisite evocation of mood and place. Illustrator Jim Tierney’s evocative cover deserves accolades for its beauty and its introduction to the novel.

Take your favorite young adult to Anderson’s Bookshop in Naperville, IL this Saturday, February 3 at 2 p.m. where the author will be in conversation with YA author Joelle Charbonneau. It’s a free event.

Rating: 4 stars   
Category: Diet Coke and Gummi Bears, Fiction, Book Club
Publication date: January 30. 2018
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