“If you’re not with the book you want, you might as well want the book you’re with.”
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.
I’m going to be honest on two counts here. First, shorter reviews are better for you and for me, so I’ll try to be a bit more brief from now on. Second?
This book was misleading from the get-go, and not in a good way.
I went into The Hazel Wood assuming this would be a fantasy novel through and through. Instead, it was more contemporary than anything up until the 3/4 mark or so, which left me disappointed. Had I known it had such a contemporary component, I might not have even picked it up in the first place, since that’s not my favorite genre. But I stuck it through, hoping that the fantasy elements promised would make up for the contemporary aspects I didn’t enjoy.
I wish I could say otherwise, I really do. But the fairy tale parts of the story came too little too late, and by the time they arrived, they were rushed through, leaving me no time to savor anything but the bad taste in my mouth. I came in expecting a rich world of complex fairy tales, and got what felt like Express Fairy Tales: Edgy Edition™ instead. The entire final act of the book, where the fairy tales lie, seems to rush through, and there is no time given to understand the world offered, no time to explore it.
Even worse, the characters were so frustratingly…tangential. I really liked Alice, the main character, because she was angry, and when I read The Hazel Wood, I needed some anger to project onto. In that respect, Alice was the kind of sharp-edged heroine that fit my personal moment. I can’t deny that. But the other characters felt like props for Alice, barely fleshed out and only fleeting in her story. Finch, her best friend, is a peppy guy whose function revolves mostly around the fact that he knows more about Alice’s grandmother than she does. Alice’s mother, who technically has great importance, vanishes early in the novel. Other characters Alice comes into contact with are usually there just to help her through a critical scene she cannot face alone, and then they disappear again. A few come back in a feel-good finale, but none of them feel especially solid or developed, which didn’t do the plot any favors. Strong characters can sometimes rescue a weak plot or poor pacing, but there weren’t enough strong characters here to do so.
According to Goodreads, The Hazel Wood is set to be the first of a series, but at this point, I already know I won’t be returning to the Hinterlands. Only Alice’s fire kept me there, and only her anger kept this book from receiving just a single star. Unless you’re a fan of contemporary and dark fairy tales, I probably would not recommend picking this one up.
How did you feel about The Hazel Wood? And what about fairy tales in general? What kinds of fairy tales would you like to see adapted into YA lit? Better yet, tell me about your favorite adaptations that already exist. Let’s spin some gold out of this topic as best we can!