Saturday, 24 March 2018

Book Review: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert

The Hazel Wood is the kind of book you want to start reading again the moment you finish it. It's snarky and relevant -- with just the right amount of melancholy.

I thought, when I started this one, that the author's loose attitude toward grammar and semantics would drive me a bit batty. Yeah, I still cling to those old-fashioned rules that were drilled into me in school. My failing, not the book's. This is a novel for a new generation of readers whose focus is on the message, rather than the format. It just works.

The language and vocabulary used give The Hazel Wood an ultra-modern feel. It's conversational and easy to read, even if some of the words had me running to Google! (I might be getting old but I'm still good with slang. It takes a word that's pretty far out there to stump me.)

I picked up The Hazel Wood because I thought it was going to be about faeries There's a helluva glut of faerie stories out there at the moment (Is it safe to say faeries are the new vampires?) but The Hazel Wood isn't really about faeries, even though faerie tales are its heart. It's more like Neverland grew up, developed an attitude problem, started smoking clove cigarettes, and ran away from home.

And it's exactly as cool as that sounds.

There are things about this book that made me fall in love but, honestly, I was lost from the first line: "My mother was raised on fairy tales, but I was raised on highways." Sometimes, a good author creates prose so beautiful that it reads like poetry. This is one of those times.

The whole time I was reading The Hazel Wood, my fingers itched for a highlighter. There were so many lines I wanted to save, to come back to, to share -- lines that, while fiction, held a painful amount of truth. The kind of sentences you want to gobble up so you don't lose them but equally want to sit and savour the taste of.

Honestly, I hate first-person YA literature. It usually seems like such a cop out. The Hazel Wood, though, wouldn't have worked if it hadn't been in first-person. You need that helplessly lost feeling that only comes when you're looking at the world through someone else's eyes. You need to fall when Alice falls, to feel her success (sort of) at the end.

The other things I loved? Well, let's talk about the love interest. Or, well, not-so-love interest. Which, of course, is the point. The Hazel Wood isn't about some girl falling for a boy and them fighting to be together. It's about a girl and her mother. A girl deciding her own fate, deciding who she gets to be. Our daughters need these books.

I've already hinted at a darker ending and that's what you get with The Hazel Wood. Don't worry, though, it's not so dark that you walk away feeling cheated. It is a happy ending. Kind of. If you look at it a certain way. Okay, it's the right ending, which is more important, anyway. (Might want to have a chocolate bar nearby for when you've finished, just to be safe.)

I can't recommend The Hazel Wood highly enough. It's the kind of book you could easily lose yourself in and finish before you realise how long you've been reading. The only thing that disappointed me about it was that it didn't come with a companion volume of Tales from the Hinterland. I'm dying to read those stories!

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