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Deep at the heart of The Hazel Wood is a twisting, twining plot about family — both lost and found. Alice Proserpine has grown up without roots. Her strongest memories are not a typical teenager’s, but rather of books and the in-between places on the road to their next brief respite. The one book Alice can’t remember (because she’s never managed to track down a copy) is Tales of the Hinterland, a small green book of fairy tales written by a reclusive grandmother she’s never met. The mystery and mythos surrounding Althea Proserpine’s cult following form the backbone of this spellbinding debut novel. Bad luck seems to follow Alice and her mother, Ella, no matter how far they run. Until a green envelope arrives with news of her grandmother’s death and her mother thinks they can finally rest.
But when the family curse inevitably catches up to the Proserpine women, Alice has nowhere to turn but to one of her grandmother’s “Hinterfans” for help. Growing up she felt a kinship with the Hinterfans since they knew as little about her mysterious grandmother as she did, but her mother’s avoidance of anything Althea-related made Alice stop all research into the elusive book of fairy tales (which even included a chapter with her name). Her first day at an elite New York prep school, Ellery Finch recognizes Alice from her connection to his favorite book’s author. And though she initially keeps the handsome nerd at arm’s length, over the course of a fast-paced adventure, Alice will discover Finch has hidden depths and that she, despite her colorful upbringing, is not as familiar with the ways of the world as she believes.
I love Alice’s biting wit and cynicism as our protagonist — her sharp edges feel real and fresh. And even though there is a deepening of her relationship with Finch, the core of this story is not romantic but a generational one between Althea, Ella, and Alice. It’s about how family can be found in the most unlikely of places and that our stories are not written in stone but are pliable like wood. Endings can be broken and redirected if you’re strong enough to endure the growing up process. These are eternal themes that anyone can relate to, whether you’re a fan of YA or not.
The style of this novel harkens back to classic young adult novels like The Outsiders where the characters are young, but the themes are timeless. Debut author Melissa Albert has woven an icy fairy tale that will creep its way into your heart and mind. This story has a darker side, offset with a hint of hope that resonates with our current cultural atmosphere. Fantasy novels can be an escape but also a waypoint for examining our own society. This book manages to walk the line between both worlds. Thriller, gothic, fantasy, coming of age, and mystery — The Hazel Wood is all of these and so much more.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves stories and beautiful writing. Beside the gorgeous cover illustrations, another little perk to this book are the beautiful vignettes heading each chapter that tie in with the story. Overall it is a masterful work that will be much easier to get your hands on than Tales of the Hinterland.
— Lola, Kids Bookseller