By: Melissa Albert
Release Date: January 30, 2018
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Series: The Hazel Wood
I am quite far behind in reading this book, but I am certainly glad that I finally picked this up. The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is a truly fantastic novel about a teenage girl in search for mother, the mysterious Hazel Wood where her grandmother once lived, and the legacy of her great storyteller grandmother herself.
I find it difficult to write this review, not because I have nothing to say but because there’s simply too much I want to talk about. The fairy tale lover in me wants to pick apart all the best bits and show off their brilliance for all to appreciate just as much as I do. But worry not. This review will be just as spoiler free as all the rest. (And maybe later I’ll sit down to write a nice, spoiler-y post about fairy tales and The Hazel Wood.)
This is a book about stories. It is a fairy tale. It is a ‘book about books’. While a young adult novel, this is a story that anyone who has grown up on fairy tales will love. It’s a story about family. What makes family? To what lengths would one go to save family?
The main character is Alice, an angry girl, a high-schooler who speaks with the all of the clarity and poetic beauty of a master storyteller. But bad luck follows Alice around like a curse, and now it’s as bad as it’s ever gotten. Her mother is kidnapped right out of her home. The person whose stolen her away seems to be from the Hinterland, the strange world all of her published fairy tales were set.
Alice is a fascinating character study, and while her past is interesting there is a constant feeling of something being not quite right, something different about her, her past, and her family. She is a girl who makes mistakes, sometimes obvious ones, the sort she knows are wrong as she’s speaking. Alice’s willingness to admit she knows this, recognizes this, and regrets the ways she speaks and acts make her both a very believable character and very relatable.
The Hazel Wood is told in first person from Alice’s point of view. It is a fast paced book that begs to be read once started and is extremely binge-able (I devoured it in one sitting) for all you fellow marathon readers out there. Yet, the book doesn’t proceed at breakneck speed. There are a number of looks back at Alice’s younger years, providing some very necessary backstory. Even so, the majority of the book takes place over the span of only a few days.
Alice is a thing of stories. Her grandmother was famous for her collection of fairy tales, and while Alice never read those, she did read everything else should could find. Literary references are littered throughout the book – fun remarks, pointed comments, and the like. The more widely read you are, the more you will probably get out of these sections. Things such as Alice’s self-adopted last name, for example, add much explanation and depth to the character’s emotions and ways of thinking without requiring great amounts of explanation.
Yet, extensive knowledge of fairy tales or other literary works isn’t needed to enjoy this story. It is a fairy tale in and of itself in a great many ways. It speaks to family – the ones you are born with, the ones you gain along the way, and the ones you decide are family all on your own. The relationships between mothers and daughters are deeply entwined with the plot – MC’s relationship with her mother, Ella, is a driving force of the novel. Ella’s relationship with her own mother, Althea is also a major factor in events. We see each generation deal with the sometimes complicated relationships of mother and daughter in their own ways – the things that drive them apart, but also the unwavering love and loyalty. When Ella goes missing MC chases after her with all of the fire and fury that one could have despite Ella not always making the perfect choices when raising her daughter and maybe being just a bit selfish at times.
This is a book that will keep you reading. It is a book that defies expectations. It doesn’t stray down the familiar paths of young adult literature, and it bursts out of the constraints of typical fairy tales. I loved Ellery, Alice’s friend and accomplice, and was genuinely surprised at some of the turns his characterization and plot went. This happens frequently. The comfortable spaces we are familiar with in fairy tales and young adult literature are used in wonderful ways. Never are we left in the dark. Never does it feel inorganic. But it is a very welcome breath of fresh air, enough to keep you on your toes and guessing the whole time.
While The Hazel Wood is the first book in a series, it could very easily be a standalone novel. The ending was satisfying and tied up all of the loose ends I still wondered about. So if you aren’t ready to commit to an unknown number of future books or just want a very solid standalone read, The Hazel Wood would absolutely do the trick.
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert was a surprise for me in many ways. I expected it to be a book I’d enjoy, but I didn’t foresee the sort of ‘must pre-order the next one immediately and where is the fanart’ fervor I did. I would absolutely recommending picking up a copy, and I will absolutely be keeping my eye out for more books by this wonderful author.