Adding to my growing collection of retellings of fairytales, I present to you, dear readers, my review of The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert. I know! Something that came out recently! This has been on my list, but I haven’t been able to buy due to that pesky self-imposed book buying ban. Instead, I found it in the library when I was returning Genuine Fraud. Evening sorted. It was starting to snow, I had blankets and tea and a book – Evening Well Spent.
Alice is an angry teenager, living a life constantly on the run from the “bad luck” that has haunted her and her mother, Ella, her whole life. When Alice’s grandmother, a one-hit fairytale writer, dies they can finally stop running. Or so they think. Then Ella gets kidnapped, leaving Alice with one instruction – stay away from the Hazel Wood. Hazel Wood is the estate her grandmother lived on, and it’s the one place Alice knows she will get back to her mother. But her Story isn’t at the start, and there is a world waiting in the woods…
‘Life never turns out how you imagine it will when you’re young. Everything is smaller than you think, or too big. It all smells a little funny and fits like somebody else’s shirt.’
the hazel wood – Melissa Albert
So the plot was fairly Grimm in style. It was a combination of contemporary and fantasy, in that most of it is set in a city, with school and home drama and sibling bickering but there are also these “characters” from Alice’s grandmother’s book The Tales of the Hinterland. Alice doesn’t believe in fairytales, but she believes in bad luck and it’s just caught up. When Ella is kidnapped she goes to a hipster rich kid from her school who just so happens to be a fan of the Hinterland. He is Alice’s Hinterland google – he knows all the stories, even though the books are rarer than gold dust by this point. Finch (the guy) is kinda sweet, and he gets really excited about the stories and freaks out more than Alice because he knows the stories – where Alice sees a weird looking woman carrying a bird in a cage, he knows who it is and the story it is from. And they aren’t happy ever after stories.
Alice is incredibly unlikable – having moved from place to place her whole life, she is used to being dependant on herself, and on her mother. They take care of each other because they are all each other has, living a childhood that Alice can only remember through the window of a car, and the books she read in each town. They don’t have a home, and she doesn’t have friends. She’s pretty icy and angry to everyone, and people steer clear after getting very rudely rebuffed. She is very blunt and doesn’t much like or trust people. Because of this forced independence, and a life with a bag in her hand, I found it a little odd that she didn’t at least attempt her trip to Hazel Wood alone, why Finch had to come to. Sometimes he felt a little like a prop device – and that’s where Alice letting him come makes more sense – she doesn’t know much about the Hinterland, he does, and she doesn’t have time to learn. Thinking along the lines of: She is used to travelling with one person, and she is willing to compromise her dislike of people to pair up with Finch because it benefits her – then their companionship makes a bit more sense.
“Some bitch? She was my girlfriend for eight months. It’s so ugly when girls call each other that word.”
“Oh, my god, Finch, go get a liberal arts degree.”
(I laughed at this insult/comeback) the hazel wood – Melissa Albert
The Hinterland is the “fairytale” realm that Alice doesn’t know much about, and it’s dark and strange and actually kinda marvellous. I really liked the setting, of how the Hinterland bleeds through. If you’re really into fantasy, be aware that there are elements of the supernatural all the way through, but the complete fantasy world of the Hinterland doesn’t quite kick in until about two thirds of the way into the book – up until then it’s fairly contemporary. But the Hinterland is pretty cool – five stars for setting.
Ultimately, this is a YA book about finding out who you are, and what you are, and changing your own life. It is YA. I gave The Hazel Wood a 4 star on Goodreads, because I did enjoy it – but I didn’t “love it” which apparently what the goodreads 4 means. I enjoyed it, I thought it was a weirdly interesting hodge-podge of Alice in Wonderland and the Brothers Grimm. I like dark fairytale retellings and bittersweet endings, and the world seemed really dark and warped. But I did feel the book could have been ….more? It’s hard to explain – it was good, I liked the story, I loved the setting, I just think there is more left to tell. And, THERE IS A LESBIAN COUPLE! It’s not explicitly stated that they are in a relationship, or that there is anything strange about their relationship. If you read this blog regularly you’ll know that’s a definite point in the books favour.
If, like me, you like retellings of fairytales, this is a dark YA fairytale with a pretty damn darkly interesting setting.