Title: The Hazel Wood
Author : Melissa Albert
Publisher: Flatiron Books
Publication Date: 01/30/18
Dates Read: 01/24/18 – 01/27/18
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
“And while they’re being told, stories create the energy
that makes this world go. They keep our stars in place.
They make our grass grow.”
This is one of those titles that I have so much to say, but I don’t want to include spoilers for unexpected readers… That being said, I am including a section at the bottom of this review for those who have read the title already and want to hear my thoughts (or those who do not mind minor spoilers–I promise not to give away anything that, in my opinion, would ‘ruin’ the story line for you).
Alice and her mother Ella have been in a constant cat-and-mouse chase with bad luck for as long as Alice can remember. They have moved more times than she can count and spent much of her life on the road, trying to outrun the strange shadow of misfortune that seems to incessantly follow them. Ella is fierce and protective, and their constant need to stick together and soldier on has made them into a tightly bonded mother-daughter pair.
Alice’s grandmother, Althea Proserpine, is the author of a rare book called Tales from the Hinterland, an anthology of sorts, full of dark, sinister, and eerie fairy tales that take place in a mythical world called the Hinterland. With a small but loyal fan base, along with Althea’s strange reclusive retreat into her estate called Hazel Wood, Althea and her book have become a ‘cult classic’ of sorts. A cloud of mystery seems to loom around everything to do with Althea and her work.
When Ella receives notification that Althea has passed away, the is filled with relief. To her, this is the sign that all of their misfortunes are over. They don’t have to run anymore. They don’t have to hide anymore. Things going to change for her and Alice and they are never looking back.
However, when Alice starts noticing strange things happening around her and strange people following her, a sense of paranoia is the least of her worries. She soon arrives home to find the place ransacked, her mother missing, and a strange message-of-sorts from an unknown sender. Aided by Ellery Finch, a schoolmate, friend, and Althea Proserpine fanatic, Alice sets out on a mission to track down her mother. But when even stranger occurrences cross into their paths and the Hinterland starts to seem all too real– Alice and Ellery have to use their limited resources to find their way to the Hazel Wood and face dark dangers.
After I read this book, I knew that it was going to take some time to process. Because there were a few sections of the book that were a little hard for me to press onward, I wasn’t sure how in the world I was going to be able to effectively apply a rating to this novel. I hung out with my younger sister that evening– a fellow literary soul that I love to discuss books with — and, no joke, gave her the longest oral summary of the book I have ever given. Talking through the events of the book and, in a way, experiencing them again, really helped me find some cohesiveness to my thoughts and appreciate the things that I loved about this novel.
There were a couple of small sections in the book that went a little too far into the depths of strange and bizarre at an almost overwhelming rate. In those areas of the book I was just really trying to power through and get to the next scene change because I was dying to see what would happen. In the moment, yes that was annoying to me, but overall.. in the grand scheme of things.. I don’t feel like it has really effected how I feel about the novel as a whole at all.
Melissa Albert has a very talented way of weaving words together to formulate these powerful and poetic sentences, sprinkled over with a touch of whimsical and then topped off with a large dollop of strange. She is a wordsmith of the dark and eerie and I did so much highlighting (digital copy) during my reading. The impressive way that she intertwined the layout of the characters and the events that unfold, along with multiple backstories and mini-stories squeezed into the tight spaces between the plot happenings made this a fun story to sit around and discuss after my reading was complete.
Like many other readers and reviewers have stated, the short stories in this novel were so entertaining. I loved them and I was entirely too giddy when I saw on Goodreads that the author has all intentions of gracing us with an entire installment of Tales from the Hinterland. You best bet that I will be one of the first people in line (metaphorically speaking… lets be real, Amazon is my BFF) for this title. The short stories were dark, eerie, suspenseful, and so very engaging. I wanted MORE, and thankfully, Melissa Albert is going to come through on this need!!!
As you can probably figure out on your own (or have heard), this novel gives a nice nod to Alice in Wonderland, but other than a few small and strange scenes, I never really thought about that while I was reading. When I finished the novel, I looked back and was thinking “ohhh… I can really see it now!!”, which was really neat. I don’t consider this a retelling or a spin-off… It just seems to give a polite hat-tip to the classic and then go about its merry way, paving its own way into a unique story line.
I am always looking for interesting themes and discussion points that could be further analyzed and discussed with others when I a read a novel. One of the more interesting aspects of this novel was some of the thin threads of ‘time’ and ‘free will’ themes that were integrated into the story line. I don’t think that Melissa Albert chose Finch’s tattoo without reason–“Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt.”–a famous quote by Kurt Vonnegut, pulled from the classic Slaughterhouse-Five. The concepts of time repeating it self over and over again, stories that exist within a loop of their own existence– are both concepts that The Hazel Wood and Slaughterhouse-Five embrace. Time travel, memories, and the coexistence of past, present, and future– the parallels that exist between these novel’s at their very core is such an interesting conversation piece and I give Melissa a true standing ovation for her provision of some literary substance for me to ponder on.
One common complaint/con that I have seen reviewers discuss about The Hazel Wood is a lack of depth to characters and/or the inability to connect to (or even like) the main character, Alice. While I do agree that she is not a particularly lovable character—hang on… soldier on.. I promise that when you get to the end of the novel and you look back and think about the whys of this story.. you will see that this characteristic was very important to Alice’s character and the story line as a whole.
There is a second installment to this series that appears to be in the works, but this novel would really be a great standalone. There were no loose ends, no big cliffhanger, and I felt very satisfied at the close of the novel. However, there are several characters that I had a lingering desire to know more about and I would love to see their own stories and adventures unfold on the pages of a novel. I can’t wait to see what Melissa does with the second novel in this series. I am sure that it will not disappoint.
All in all–I highly recommend this title if this is a genre you enjoy. It made me think.. which I love. It is dark and twisty and strange and beautiful and I could see myself picking it up for a second read in the future.
HERE IS THE SECTION I WARNED YOU ABOUT!!!!!
For those who have already read this novel or who do not mind spoilers.
I REPEAT… May contain minor spoilers!
Okay… there is one scene that I really loved and I think could spark some engaging conversations. During the last portion of the novel, Alice has the following words with another character:
“‘You broke your story. It’s not worth being told now.’
‘It was never my story,’ I said. ‘It was yours.'”
This was so powerful to me!! As someone who loves teaching and discussing novels with young adults (even though I couldn’t teach this title.. because, language), I can really appreciate the hidden meanings and depth of these words. I have taught so many children that have come from abusive situations, lived through unspeakable events, and frankly, just had the ‘odds’ of society stacked against them. Young adults who were in self-contained educational settings due to the interference that their emotional behavioral disabilities had on their day to day lives (and of course I thought of these students when I read through Alice’s struggles with anger and anxiety). When people are being told what they cannot accomplish, places they cannot go, milestones they will not reach, careers they cannot achieve, events they cannot overcome— how POWERFUL it is to hear an individual say that they are going to rise above and write their own story. You are the writer in your story and this novel can so embrace that beautiful theme.
There is also a fantastic theme of family in this novel that you cannot fully appreciate without knowing the full family dynamics of Alice and Ella’s situation and seeing their bond on the pages of The Hazel Wood. This sense of family being what you make it, instead of being just what you were born into, is so powerful. My grandmother is a foster parent and I have watched as so many children have come into her home to be loved, healed, and held–eventually finding their place with a family that shows the same love and devotion that you see between Ella and Alice. This really touched my heart and I think it could broach some important conversations with young adults.
**Thank you to the author, Flatiron Books, and NetGalley for providing me with a advanced DRC in exchange for an honest review. This provision in no way effects my opinions or rating.