I had a different review planned for today and then I realized, it's Friday the 13th, and this book is pretty spoopy, so here we go.
The Hazel Wood grabbed my attention on a random meander through Barnes & Noble. I rarely purchase books on a whim in a store, people. I'm an anomaly in readership that way. But again. With the cover. And the weird name. So, I purchased it. And it sat on my bookshelf for a couple of months while I cleared out a backlog of library books that were overdue. When I finally picked her up, we started down the path of a delightfully creepy, borderline horror, story.
The story follows Alice and her mother, who after having spent most of Alice's life on the road, and recently received news of her grandmother's death move to New York City to settle down. Alice is used to a fairly transient life - small and dingy apartments, long car rides with her mother, switching schools often. Not long after they settle in NYC Alice is dropped into the middle of a fancy prep school thanks to her new step-dad (and unwelcoming stepsister). She works part-time in a coffee shop and tries to blend into the background whenever she's at school. Despite her best efforts, she draws the attention of one Ellery Oliver Djan-Nelson-Abrams-Finch. (He's just called Finch).
Not long after a strange (but familiar) man shows up at the coffee shop where she works, Alice's mother disappears, Alice starts to be followed by strange characters, and cryptic letters are delivered to her by raven.
Her grandmother was the famous, reclusive author of a collection of short stories called Tales from the Hinterland. A book Alice has seen only one time and her mother forbid her to read. Finch has read this book, once, and is fascinated by Alice and her mysterious connection to The Tales. With his help ahem bankroll, Alice sets out to try to find her mother, whom she suspects was forced to return to her grandmother's estate The Hazel Wood.
Once she finally gets in, Alice encounters many of the characters from the Hinterland stories (shared by Finch during their travel), including the Forest King, a very creepy little girl, and the goddess-like Story Spinner (damn, I want to be her). She finds out that the book her grandmother published helped to create bridges between this fairytale world and the real world. And something happened when she was young that allowed the characters in the Hinterland to escape into the real world.
Alice then must choose: will she help to solve this problem or forge her own path.
Melissa Albert, the author, truly did weave a tapestry of beautiful words, compelling stories, and interesting characters. The story slowed down a little in the middle. But it has truly incredible prose and villains sprung from perfect fairytale nightmares. And some of Alice's angst with Finch and their travel to The Hazel Wood estate was.... definitely there to stretch the story out. And then I found the ending a little too vague. Not quite as triumphant as I wanted it to be. It comes close to underscoring this really beautiful idea that we are the masters of our stories. And at the last second, backs off. It falls victim to what I think is a bit of a pestilence on YA Literature right now: Everything is a series. This story set up a second book. Which is called, you guessed it, Tales from the Hinterland. I'm sure I'll revisit Alice and the other creepy characters from the Halfway Wood. There is ambition to craft a beautiful, brutal story on every page of this novel. And I think Albert achieved it. I just always want a little more hope.