Any book lover has thought about what it might be like to live alongside beloved characters, or in a fictional land that inspires the imagination with adventure and magic. I wouldn’t mind living in Avonlea, I think—who wouldn’t want to live next to the Lake of Shining Waters? But as much as I’m Team Peeta, I’m going to pass on a trip to Panem, thank you very much.
And I wouldn’t like it if President Snow paid me a visit in the here-and-now, either.
That’s a bit like what happens in Melissa Albert’s debut novel, The Hazel Wood. Teenage Alice and her mother have lived a nomadic life, always trying to outrun both the terribly bad “luck” that chases them and the dodgy fans of Alice’s grandmother’s book of fairytales who won’t leave them alone. When Alice’s mom goes missing, with only a note to “Stay away from the Hazel Wood,” Alice knows something terrible has happened.
That’s because the Hazel Wood is where her recluse of a grandmother lived in the years after she published Tales from the Hinterland. And Alice always suspected that the nasty creatures from grandma’s book, and the Hinterland itself, aren’t really fiction.
Albert’s book is full of interesting characters and creepy plot turns. Although the concept of book characters crossing into real life isn’t new (remember Fforde’s The Eyre Affair?), the fascination with creepiness—not horror exactly, but creepy—feels like a more recent phenomenon. Reading this book reminded me of Every Heart a Doorway, a story about children who are “recovering” from their journeys into fantasy realms (think Narnia, only…yes…CREEPY.)
If that’s your thing, you’ll like…maybe even love…The Hazel Wood.
Other selling points:
- There is a romantic element to the story, but it’s very understated and not pivotal to the plot, which is a refreshing change from most other books burning up the bestseller list these days.
- Albert allows her characters to fail, miserably. While the “thing” that you think is so obvious that it can’t be the “thing” actually is the “thing,” there are plenty of other plot turns that aren’t predictable (in fact, the strategy that Albert uses to throw you off from guessing the “thing”—by actually revealing it early in the story—is close to genius).
- The book will likely hit the screens in the not too distant future, as it was optioned by Columbia Pictures.
- While the story leaves some threads dangling—what the heck happened to Twice-Killed Katherine??—the ending itself is satisfying.
So, what do you say…
See you in the Hinterland?