“My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways.”
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is the story of Alice Crewe, who is approximately 17 years old. She and her mother, Ella, have never lived in one place for too long, moving all over the continental United States. It seems that whenever they stay in one place for too long, bad things happen to them. They call it bad luck and they move on.
They have one rule: don’t talk to fans; it turns out that Ella’s mother, Althea Prosperine, is a somewhat famous author. She’s more got a cult-like following of her book, Tales from the Hinterland, and the fans of the book always tend to be a little bit strange. Alice hasn’t read it, at her mother’s orders. One day they get a letter saying that Althea has passed away. In Ella’s mind this sets them free, and the two of them put down roots in New York City.
However, they aren’t out of the woods yet, and bad things start happening again. Then one day Ella disappears. Alice is kicked out of their house and she doesn’t know what to do. She teams up with her only kind of friend from school, Ellery Finch, who also happens to be a fan of Tales from the Hinterland. Alice needs to find her mother, so they set out to find her despite the fact that Ella’s last piece of advice is “…stay the hell away from the Hazel Wood,” and that is Ella’s most likely location.
I picked up The Hazel Wood as my next read after The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw, which I absolutely loved, so it had some big shoes to fill. That being said I don’t think my love for The Wicked Deep has coloured my opinion of The Hazel Wood in any way. I try really hard to not compare things, because if I did I would get a lot less enjoyment out of reading. That being said, it needs to be acknowledged that I picked this one up because I was craving a bit more magic in the real world because of The Wicked Deep. [Spoilers ahead!]
The Hazel Wood did live up to that. Pretty quickly into the book it becomes clear that something isn’t quite right and that there’s a little bit of magic in the undercurrents of this world. Characters from Tales from the Hinterland keep showing up in New York and crossing paths with Alice and Finch. Finch recognizes them because he has read the book and he’s able to tell Alice about some of the stories, including “Alice Three-Times”, which intrigues her because she shares a first name. I loved this aspect of the story. The stories that Althea supposedly wrote were much darker than the fairy tales we normally read, even though those have dark origins as well. The stories from Althea’s book and the characters crossing into our world and the part at the end where Alice goes into the Hinterland, are my favourite parts of the book. Those are the parts of the book that got me to give this book four out of five stars. For me that is a solid enjoyment rating. I liked the book, but I wasn’t fantastically in love with it. However, there were definitely parts of this book that I didn’t like.
I liked the way that this story was told for the most part. I liked the the flashbacks to their past and the glimpses of Althea’s book, and I especially loved the ending. I liked that there wasn’t a forced romance in this book and how it was mostly about the relationship between Alice and her mother. I liked the twist. But…
But there was a time when I was reading the book and I literally thought “Holy, similes Batman!” It seemed like every point of description was done with a simile and it just rubbed me the wrong way. The whole book wasn’t like that, or else I think I would have had a much harder time with it. I also found that it was kind of slow to start, which I didn’t mind too much but I know that it’s not for everyone. Alice is also not the most likeable character. Sometimes this bothers me and I know that sometimes it’s really important to certain readers to have a really likeable character. I find that if the story is good then I can deal with an annoying protagonist, and in this case it had a pretty logical explanation for why she was the way she was.
Other parts of the book were strange and didn’t fully make sense. I’m not sure if this is a universal experience with those reading the book, or if it was because I was reading late at night. I just got a little lost and not in a good way. By the end most things were clear and I was really happy with the ending, but I’m still kind of unclear on some of the steps we took along the way through the novel.
However, as I mentioned I did give this book four out of a five stars and that’s a pretty good rating. It was an adventure and I really liked the journey that I took along with Alice. If you like dark and twisty and fairy tales and mother-daughter bonds, then I think this book might be one that you enjoy! I definitely recommend it.