Review: The Hazel Wood
The Hazel Wood, Melissa Albert
Published January 30, 2018
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.
This is one of those books that I feel like kicking myself for not reading the moment in landed in my hands. I had already assumed that given the description that this would be a book that I would enjoy, but I’ve become a little more wary of books in the YA genre as sometimes the voice of the narrative reads so young as to feel annoying as I’m not necessarily the intended audience for that book.
The Hazel Wood does not feel like YA other than the fact that the main character, Alice, is seventeen years old. Everything else has a “grew up too fast” vibe, with mother and young daughter smoking together, early drinking, and a natural but bountiful use of “fuck” that I don’t usually associate with this genre.
I immediately liked Alice as a character and was drawn into the mystery of her life and grandmother from the get-go. There's also a cinematic quality to the book, making it easy to picture the wildly interesting characters that populate the book.
I enjoyed the creepy, sinister vibes that were introduced early on and only grew as the story continued. The reader doesn’t immediately know just how dark the stories from Alice’s grandmother’s book are, but rather learn more about their style as Alice’s maybe-friend Finch recounts some of them to her and as the characters start appearing in real life. Reading about Twice-Killed Katherine while home alone, at night, was enough to make me want to get up and close my windows lest her creepy bird find a way in.
The ending felt a little harder to follow in terms of worldbuilding and rules, but it definitely made me curious about the roles of storytellers or Storytellers, especially as Goodreads indicates that there are yet more books to come.