Title: The Hazel Wood
Author: Melissa Albert
Release Date: January 2, 2018
Publisher: FlatIron Books
Rating: ★★★★☆ (3.8/5)
SYNOPSIS: Seventeen-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.
The Hazel Wood is. . .well, it’s just peculiar.
But I can work with strange. Hopefully you can, too.
I guess I’ll start by doing my best to explain what’s happening in the book. Spoiler free, of course. I received an ARC of The Hazel Wood in exchange for an honest review (and it is.)
Alice’s grandmother is world famous for her sinister fairytales, Tales of the Hinterland. This fame came at a cost, though, as Alice was kidnapped by one of her grandmother’s obsessive fans when she was young. From there, Alice and her mother, Ella, lived on the road and left their lives behind.
The Hazel Wood begins by giving us a brief intro and then diving straight into the rising action (look at me, using English class terminology) where Alice’s grandmother has passed away. Ella sees this as an opportunity to place their roots someplace and start fresh without the threat of Tales of the Hinterland fans. The plot picks up pretty quickly, which is good for someone like me, who dislikes too much exposition at once.
I don’t want to go into too many details, but while the world building was a little bit underwhelming, I really enjoyed the atmosphere of the novel. I gotta say, it reminded me a bit of Caraval. The idea of a world completely different from reality, but still exists in our universe. The books as a whole don’t resemble each other, but these books both nailed their respective surreal atmospheres.
END OF SPOILER FREE SECTION
Okay, so, you’ve read The Hazel Wood. Or maybe you just came to read my review so you can skip the book. Or maybe it’s because the novel isn’t out until 2018. Either way, I won’t judge.
I have a lot to say (not really, but there’s a few) so let’s get right in.
Family dynamics are one of my favorite things to analyze when reading a YA novel. Mostly because when I can look at the families, it usually means the author did a good job adding the parents, siblings, other members, etc. and not just throwing family under the bus (or in a car crash, I think someone should probably look into the amount of YA parents dying of automobile incidents.)
As for The Hazel Wood, this is a little difficult. Ella, Alice’s mother, is perceived as free spirited and unreliable, but protective and caring of her daughter. I wish I would’ve liked to see her character progressed, but the kidnapping scheme in the early stage of THW prevents that. So I just have to assume Ella is a static character at this point.
Althea Proserpine, Alice’s grandmother and author of Tales of the Hinterland, is also a mystery. We learn that she’s not actually dead, she’s just trapped in her home. She has a bunch of secrets and cannot be trusted. So, therefore, she is also cut from my family dynamic analysis.
That leaves us with. . .Alice’s stepdad and stepsister?
Her stepdad attempted to shoot her, due to a spell of some sort. And Audrey, her stepsister, really only appeared a handful of times but always seemed to appear when it was convenient for the plot. (Gotta love those coincidences.)
THW deserves like a C- for family dynamics. I still like the book though.
Okay. . .onto Ellery Finch.
He was a bit of an interesting character. At first he reminded me of Gansey from The Raven Boys, hella rich and super nerdy. I personally love reading nerdy, shy fictional guys with a snarky side so Finch was like my ideal character.
Also, very important, but Finch is biracial. His mother is Ghanaian. I wasn’t expecting the integration of diversity, so I was pleasantly surprised. It’s not a major aspect of the story, but it’s mentioned a few times. The most intense scene, though, was when Alice argued with a cop on the way to The Hazel Wood manor.
“‘God, let it rest! You shouldn’t have insulted a cop, okay? He could’ve dragged me out of the car because you were being an idiot. You think rich matters in this situation? You think a cop looks at me and sees rich? You’re pretending you don’t get it, but you do'” (180).
*Applause* It’s really the only socially conscious scene, but it resonated with me the rest of the book. I just cheered him on like, “Yes, tell her, Finch!”
I would also like to mention that Finch, a character of color, is killed off in the middle of the book. He is resurrected, of course, but there are still implications related to killing off POCs in YA books. Just thought I would say something while it’s here.
The road trip adventure between Finch and Alice was one of my favorite parts of the book, especially the motel scene GAH!
This novel frustrated me a bit, because Albert gave Alice and Finch this subtle romantic tension, and then he just dies?! And then everything leading up to them is just gone! I’m totally cool with a story about friendship, in fact, I really enjoyed Alice and Finch being friends, but I wished it was like that from the beginning. Don’t give me comforting each other in the dark at a shoddy motel and kissing each other in a Hinterland daydream if you’re not going to bring closure to their relationship!
Even when Finch and Alice were reunited, it was only for a few pages, and then he said he was staying in the Hinterland. AND THEN AT THE END, when Janet and her girlfriend (hell yeah LGBTQ rep that isn’t automatically m/m even though all queer couples are valid) visit Alice, Finch doesn’t even bother to show up?? I’m sure Albert had something planned, but I totally would’ve reunited Finch and Alice again. Their friendship/romantic relationship had so much potential and instead all we got was a cliffhanger and no closure at all.
Wow, I didn’t expect to rant there. I’m glad I got my thoughts out, though.
As for the Hinterland.
It was supposed to come off as this unique, dark world but it kind of felt like some knockoff of Alice in Wonderland, or even Caraval. The Hinterland adventures were half of the novel, but I felt like the worl-building could’ve been more!
And the Hinterland stories. I know they were woven into The Hazel Wood to bring some knowledge of Althea’s stories. Truthfully, they kind of just broke the rhythm of the novel and brought unnecessary information. I didn’t mind the Three-Times-Alice tale, because it reflects Alice and her story.
But just tell us that the Hinterland gates require a sacrifice, we don’t need 5 pages of some wicked girl killing her father and her sister to get to the Hinterland. That just isn’t necessary. The writing of THW was enjoyable, but the internal storyline had some major issues and could’ve been prevented.
Though, I’d love to see Melissa Albert write her own Tales of the Hinterland. Leigh Bardugo wrote Language of Thorns, so I think I already have an idea for Albert’s next book!!!
The ending was anticlimactic. Alice broke free of her story, and everything was easy from there. Even the Hinterland people can just go back and forth between their world and the real world (but Finch conveniently stays in the Hinterland. . .interesting.) Even Althea told Alice that Ella wasn’t her mother, I was like okay??? I didn’t see it coming but it wasn’t that much of a shock once we learned she’s from a kingdom in a story.
I feel like I’ve been giving THW some hate, even when I didn’t mean to, so I’ll mention something I liked. I felt that there are a few undertones of immortality in THW. When Alice is put back into her story, she relives it again and again. Spinner refuses to set Alice free, because she “belongs” in her world and will live forever unless she does something about it. Alice didn’t want immortality, though, she wanted to truly live. It’s one of those “it’s a golden cage but it’s still a cage” situations, and I liked that Alice broke free of her cage.
“There are better fairy tales. If the Hinterland’s real, maybe all of it is real. We could look for Neverland. Or Narnia” (187).
Overall, The Hazel Wood wasn’t a bad book. The family dynamics were lacking, along with the world-building, and the relationship of Alice and Finch was left hanging. Many things could’ve easily been fixed. Otherwise, the writing was detailed and smooth, and I enjoyed reading it. 3.7/5 stars.
Wow, I haven’t done a review in a while! Thanks for reading!