Book Review: The Hazel Wood

hazelwoodcover

The Hazel Wood

Written by Melissa Albert

400 pages

Published by Penguin Random House

Publication date: 8th February 2018

Age range: 15+

Summary (from Goodreads):

Seventeen-year-old Alice and her mother have spent most of Alice’s life on the road, always a step ahead of the strange bad luck biting at their heels. But when Alice’s grandmother, the reclusive author of a 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 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.

To retrieve her mother, Alice must venture first to the Hazel Wood, then into the world where her grandmother’s tales began . . .

Until Althea Proserpine (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.
When we traveled I kept an eagle eye on the cars behind us, like bad luck could take human form and trail you in a minivan. But bad luck was sneakier than that. You couldn’t outsmart it, you could only move along when it had you in its sights.

After Althea died, we stopped moving. Ella surprised me with a key to a place in Brooklyn, and we moved in with our pitiful store of stuff. The weeks ticked by, then the months. I remained vigilant, but our suitcases stayed under the bed. The light in our apartment was all the colors of metal— blinding platinum in the morning, gold in the afternoon, bronze from streetlights at night. I could watch the light roll and change over our walls for hours. It was mine.

Her voice was hard and certain. “No more bad luck for us, Alice. You hear me? It’s done.” So I went to public school. I hung Christmas lights around the plaster mantel behind our bed, and took a job at a café that turned into a bar when the sun went down. Ella started talking about things she’d never talked about before: painting our walls, buying a new sofa. College applications.

It was that last one that got us into trouble— Ella’s dream of a normal life for me, one with a future. Because if you’ve spent your whole life running, how do you learn to stand still? How do you figure out the right way to turn your straw house into brick?

Wow, I have been hearing so much about this book. From the first glimpse of the front cover and the snippet of a summary I saw, I knew that this book would be for me.

Dark fairytales?

Sign me up!

Alice is a relatable and not-entirely-likeable protagonist and we follow her attempts to get to the bottom of the weird things that have always happened around her. She and her mother have spent years fleeing the ‘bad luck’ and darkness that seems to dog their steps. When the grandmother Alice has never known dies on her hidden estate, The Hazel Wood, Alice’s mother seems to think they can finally stop running…but things aren’t so simple!

I really enjoyed all the references to various fairy tales and folklore throughout the book, as well as the insertions of sections of the stories published by Alice’s grandmother after her adventures. Apart from this, the book was entirely different to what I was expecting. A lot of it takes place in our world, and despite strangeness leaking through into the real world we don’t get to see the real magic in the Hinterlands until quite late.

At times this book was quite slow and I was impatient to get to the Hazel Wood. The build-up to this is done really well, then I felt like the last section was really rushed.

Dark and fascinating, but not a new favourite for me I’m afraid. Another book  that promises magic, but doesn’t have nearly enough of it until the end!

Everyone is supposed to be a combination of nature and nurture, their true selves shaped by years of friends and fights and parents and dreams and things you did too young and things you overheard that you shouldn’t have and secrets you kept or couldn’t and regrets and victories and quiet prides, all the packed -together detritus that becomes what you call your life.

But every time we left a place, I felt the things that happened there being wiped clean, till all that was left was Ella, our fights and our talks and our winding roads. I wrote down dates and places in the corners of my books, and lost them along the way. Maybe it was my mother whispering in my ear. The bad luck won’t follow us to the next place. You don’t have to remember it this way. Or maybe it was the clean break of it, the way we never looked back.

But I didn’t think so. I think it was just me. My mind was an old cassette tape that kept being recorded over. Only wavering ghost notes from the old music came through. I wondered, sometimes, what the original recording would sound like— what the source code of me might look like. I worried it was darker than I wanted it to be. I worried it didn’t exist at all. I was like a balloon tied to Ella’s wrist: If I didn’t have her to tell me who I was, remind me why it mattered, I might float away.

What I liked: The dark fairytales – I would have loved to read the book written by Alice’s grandmother. The relationship between Alice and her mother. The genuine creepiness of the books going missing and the build-up to travelling to the Hazel Wood.

Even better if: I wish that the time in the Hazel Wood was longer. It was amazing, but felt like there was a lot in ‘the real world’ first and I really wanted to get into the world Althea recorded in her stories… Alice was quite unlikeable at times, particularly in how she treats Finch and dismisses him even when he’s trying to help her. Found her fond feelings towards her kidnapper quite odd too.

How you could use it in your classroom: I wouldn’t recommend this for a primary classroom, but would recommend this to older readers in secondary school, particularly if they have previously enjoyed some of the dark fairy tales by Holly Black or Melissa Marr. (Do be aware that there is swearing though!) I did like Alice’s relationship with her mother and it could easily be used to start a discussion about home, family and belonging.

(Thank you to Netgalley and Penguin Random House for my e-review copy)

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