Writing a review for The Hazel Wood was very difficult. Unlike a lot of the books that I read this year this novel was very plot driven. For the sake of spoilers I won’t really go into that. Look for a post sometime in January with more details on what I liked and disliked about the story.
Alice and her mother have lived a mobile lifestyle for as long as Alice can remember. The two of them have never stayed anywhere for long. No matter where they go, bad luck seems to follow them. That is until Alice’s famous recluse author grandmother dies. Alice’s mother takes this as a sign that they are free. Until the bad luck comes crashing back into their lives.
Alice returns home to find her mother gone and her stepfather and stepsister fleeing the apartment. Alice begins to search for her mother, only to find herself interacting with characters from her Grandmother’s stories.
Hazel’s Grandmother was one of the most interesting elements of this book. She was famous for writing a collection of fairy tales, each one more horrific and dark than the one before it. Though there weren’t many copies published, it was successful enough for a film adaption. Finding copies of the film and the book are near impossible and an obsessed fan community has grown around the works. These fans follow and harass Alice and her Mother for any information on her Grandmother and her work. Alice has made a point of refusing to interact with anyone who is a fan of the book.
Which is a problem, because after her mother disappears the only person she can get help from is a boy from school named Ellery Finch. He’s a super fan of the Hinterland which is both helpful in figuring out what is going one but adds stress to their new friendship (and maybe romance?) It doesn’t matter how kind or helpful Ellery is, Alice is always questioning whether he’s helping her with ulterior motives in mind.
The Hazel Wood is both a story and a critique of stories. Teen fiction has the habit of falling into certain patterns for its characters, plots and themes. It’s comforting. When you pick up a YA novel there is this unspoken contract of what you’re going to read. Fairy tales give their audience certain expectations as well. They’e either going to be family friendly Disney stories or traditional Grimm horror shows. Albert is able to throwback to the original stories and still play with your expectations.
I absolutely loved the atmosphere in this novel. The Hazel Wood is super creepy and the more you think about it, the creepier it gets. It feels like the weather is always dark and a storm is always just about to break. Your characters, no matter where they go are never really safe. There is no real way to escape this creepy fairy tale and that can be stressful.
That being said, Albert references a few current pop culture things like Doctor Who that drag you out of the story. These references date the novel and can ruin the timelessness nature of the story.The novel also has a few abrupt tonal shifts that make sense along with the reveals of the story but can feel like you’ve all of a sudden picked up a completely different book.
Despite that,The Hazel Wood is a a fun and spooky read. If you’re looking for something with delicious dark undertones and an interesting mystery than I recommend you check this one out.