The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert is a slow-burning, gripping and very original spooky fairy-tale mashup tale for YA readers.
It’s the kind of book you read and think – halfway through – yes, this story is very clever…why has no one done it like this before?
It’s about a girl called Alice (what else would her name be?) she is very angry and lost in the world of New York City. Alice feels disenfranchised, and is very annoyed at her “mum” for continually moving them around the country – from one messed-up rich boyfriend to the next.
Then her mum goes missing and, because Alice’s grandmother is well-known for being a strange writerly recluse who wrote an infamous book of stories about a fantasy land called Hinterland, Alice believes creatures from the Hinterland have stolen her mum away. She starts seeing visions and gets the help of a fairy-tale geek, Finch, to see if there is a way to reach the fairy-tale side of the world – and a place called the Hazel Wood where her grandmother lived and wrote before she died – to rescue her mother.
Things, obviously, don’t go smoothly and Alice slowly begins to realise that her “mum” was not all she seemed…and neither was her grandmother. She also discovers that she, herself, has a much firmer connection with the stories of Hinterland than she could ever have dreamed of.
I won’t say anymore, as it will ruin the plot – but suffice to say the tense, atmospheric and wickedly nasty/fairy-tale writing that moves this story along is beautifully dark, oddly realistic and pretty cut-throat. It is definitely a book for older teens, not just because of the swearing but because it is pretty complex and has a lot of older cultural references in it.
If you want to read a VERY original take on an “Alice” fairy-tale, then this is for you. Although the part of the story in the “real world” does perhaps go on for a little too long (I understand this was because the author wanted to make it as realistic as possible for Alice to go from real to fairy-tale), this doesn’t detract from the book being a creepy, under-your-skin metaphoric tale of the deliciously dark wants and needs of an angry teenage girl discovering herself through the weird world of the Hinterland.