Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

*Slight spoilers ahead!*

What you need to know:

Genre: Fantasy Fiction, Young Adult

Pages: 368

Release Date: January 30, 2018

Goodreads Overall Rating: 3.8/5

Would recommend? Yes! But with some thoughts, of course.

If we look at the review ratings on Goodreads alone, you might be thinking, Why should I even bother? And although I completely understand the hesitation, please, please hear me out. Overall, The Hazel Wood was a very interesting and fun read. Melissa Albert is a wonderful plotter and has a way of really allowing the reader to fully delve into the story. But of course, praise cannot come with its own set of issues. Which I do have. The Hazel Wood did have its moments, but there were many things I really liked. I found myself reading the book late at night feeling truly creeped out. Which, in my opinion (given the setting, of course) is a good thing!

But before we even get there. Let me tell you a bit about this book first.

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The Hazel Wood follows a seventeen-year-old girl named Alice who is no stranger to bad luck. At any sign of danger, she and her mother would be off to their next city or state. Not knowing what caused these events to happen and having a mother who would rather anything else than to tell her the truth, Alice followed silently along. Until one day, Alice and her mother receive a letter. Not just any ordinary letter, no Christmas-themed postcard or saliva-sealed envelope, but more of an eerie letter with scrawled handwriting stating that Althea Proserpine was dead. Althea, who Alice also knew as grandmother was dead. You would assume a reaction of sadness, but instead, Alice’s mother was relieved. She took this as a sign that they were finally free. Free from what? Well, Alice was just about to find out.

Within the first couple of chapters, we find out that Althea Proserpine was also an extremely infamous author of a truly eerie fairytale called Tales of the Hinterland. A book that was written in her mystical, maybe even, *gasp* dare I say, enchanted, home called (of course) The Hazel Wood.

The Hazel Wood

[th-uh hey-zuh l-woo d]
  1. A home that Alice had never visited, but where her mother grew up in and yet never dared to speak of with Alice. Also v. creepy. Doesn’t come up on Google Maps.

Although Alice’s mother had never let her meet her grandmother, let alone read her book, Alice felt a deep connection with Althea. At a young age, she quickly became obsessed with her grandmother, reading everything there was to know about her online in hopes of filling that gaping hole that only Althea could fill. Aside from staying up late and researching all she could about Althea, there was another event that Alice remembers of coming very close to her grandmother… but you’ve got to read the book to find that one out!

Within the year of receiving the news about Althea, Alice and her mother were finally able to settle into a comfy, little New York apartment. Shortly after, Alice’s mother gets married and they move into her new now step-fathers’ mansion (maybe that would be an understatement?) and his less than friendly daughter.

Everything seemed to be going just fine until one seemingly normal school day turns into the worst day of her life. When Alice gets home from school that day, Alice is immediately filled with fear. A rancid smell stings her nostrils as she gets deeper and deeper into the enormous house she had become so accustomed to. Yelling for her mother, her step-sister, step-dad, anyone, but no one is there. Except for that foul smell.

Once Alice is able to get in contact with her step-sister, she finds out that her mother was taken. And the only message her mother left for Alice was, Stay away from The Hazel Wood.

Distraught and nowhere to go, Alice goes to her friend (but not friend?) Ellery Finch, a boy from Alice’s class who bonded with her over the fact that she was Althea’s granddaughter. Yes, Ellery is an Althea Proserpine fanatic, which is actually in Alice’s favor because of course, she is going to The Hazel Wood to save her mother. And Ellery is going to help her along the way.

Fun, right?

Filled with fantastical elements and the deeply rooted horror of losing a mother to something deeper, something unknown is what truly moved the story for me.

A few things I noticed that many did not like was the similarity between The Hazel Wood and Alice in Wonderland. I completely get the comparison, but it’s something so much more than that. I think Alice in Wonderland is twisted in its own way, but The Hazel Wood takes it just a bit further. In my opinion, the only concept they have in common is the fact that they both include portal fantasy elements.

Another aspect many people seemed to be annoyed about was the fact that Alice was putting herself in, blatant and “unnecessary” danger. I didn’t really find that to be a problem because if my mother got stolen by creepy men that smelled like sewers and she tells me not to go to a place that has been pretty foreign to me my whole life but is filled with (what I assume to be) fantastical elements, of course, I would go! Seems like the only reasonable thing for a seventeen-year-old to do. Given the situation, of course.

However, there were a few things I did have a problem with. Teenage angst aside, Alice was pretty mean. She was mean to Ellery when he was the only person helping her, not to mention providing funds to get them to Hazel Wood. And although his obsession with The Hazel Wood was kinda weird, his backstory helped with justifying his connection, maybe even infatuation, with the tales (and their theories). I also had a difficult time picturing Alice. I don’t know why. I just did. Maybe it was a me thing, but if anyone felt the same, please share!! Let me know I’m not alone. Also, Alice’s mother was pretty mean, too. But then again, it was understandable, given her backstory as well.

*Slight spoilers ahead!*

I also had a difficult time picturing her going from the “real world” to the “fantasy world” that is Hinterland. Once I was in that realm, it was pretty cool. But it did take a few re-reads of the same paragraph to get the gist of it. Same thing when she was leaving this fantasy realm. I really liked how creepy it got and how time just seemed to slip. The concept of time in the Hinterland was one of my favorite part of it all. Especially when she talks to the bartender about it. You’ll know when you get there.

Also, I would at times confused The Hazel Wood (house) and T(t?)he Hinterland with one another. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Could also be a me thing! Please let me know if you felt this way, too. My reading-ego needs it. Just kidding. (But, seriously.)

But what about the actual fairytales!?!?!??!

Okay, I loved this part. They were so fucking creepy. (Excuse my language. Actually, fuck that. It was f-u-c-k-i-n-g creepy. Okay. Too far. Sorry.) Seriously, though! The fairytales were one of my other favorite parts. It was so much fun just reading through them. Especially Alice-Three-Times. Let me know when you get there. 😉 I just really have to give Melissa Albert props for that. They were so creative and different than what I’ve read before. And creepy. Did I mention creepy?

All in all, yes this book had its issues (and way too many negative reviews) but it is a really fun read. I will say, I really did not like Alice in the beginning but she redeemed herself in the end. I also really liked Ellery. Honestly, I think he was my favorite. This book really makes you work for it and puts you through some trials before giving you all the answers you’re just dying to find out, but then, in the end, everything is pieced together so nicely. It’s a great read all throughout. Go read the book and find out for yourself!

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